Just more than 2½ years ago, James Daniels was a 17-year-old true freshman being thrust into action on Iowa’s offensive line.
On Friday night, he became a second-round NFL draft pick.
While watching back home with family in Ohio, the 20-year-old Hawkeyes center was chosen by the Chicago Bears No. 39 overall at the draft taking place in Arlington, Texas.
Daniels, who can’t legally buy a beer until a week after the NFL regular season starts, shot up draft boards after an impressive NFL scouting combine performance in Indianapolis, where he showed a combination of strength and athleticism.
He'll fit in beautifully with the Bears, who in their coaching overhaul, brought aboard longtime offensive-line guru Harry Hiestand to the staff. The former Notre Dame line coach will be a perfect guy to take Daniels' game to the next level.
“I thought this guy was a technician at the combine," NFL Network's Mike Mayock said, as he watched Daniels on video. "Look at him drop the hips. Everything he did, he stayed low, on balance. He’s going to fit right in there.”
Daniels could be a plug-and-play center on Day One with the Bears, who had been using converted guard Cody Whitehair at that position.
“I think he’s the best center in this draft class," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "I’ve watched him on tape. He’s a guy who fires off really quick, agile.”
The 6-foot-3, 306-pound native of Warren, Ohio, started 25 games at Iowa over the past three seasons, and was part of the 2016 unit that captured the Joe Moore Award as college football’s top offensive line.
He becomes the first Hawkeye drafted by the Bears since Bill Anderson was chosen in Round 7 of the 1990 draft.