LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels was someone on my NFL Draft radar a couple of years ago when he transferred from Arizona State to the Tigers in 2022, but his stock and name recognition went to another level after his most recent performance put him in the record books: Against Florida this past weekend, Daniels threw for 372 yards and rushed for 234 yards in a 52-35 win, scoring five touchdowns in the process.
Combined with his efforts over the course of the entire season, Jayden Daniels has become a Heisman favorite and a potential first round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft. Should the Los Angeles Rams consider Daniels as an option to replace Matthew Stafford if the opportunity presents itself?
In 10 games this season, Daniels has completed 71% of his passes and thrown 30 touchdowns against only four interceptions, averaging 13.1 adjusted yards per attempt, which ranks first in the country by a wide margin. The next-closest player who is expected to get draft buzz is Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy at 11.3 yards per attempt, but he has only 18 touchdowns.
Daniels’ 30 touchdowns leads the country, one more than draft hopefuls Caleb Williams (in 11 games) and Bo Nix, two more than Washington’s Michael Penix, but he has seven interceptions.
But Daniels is more than an arm: He has rushed for 918 yards and eight touchdowns.
The only quarterback with at least 25 touchdown passes and over 400 rushing yards is Liberty’s Kaidon Salter. Daniels is easily the most complete dual threat in the country, but is he a good NFL draft prospect?
Comparison is the thief of joy — that’s true in almost all facets of life. It’s hard not to see that silhouette of a young Lamar Jackson, though, when Daniels hits the field for LSU, and some similarities can’t be denied.
Daniels is not as naturally elusive in the open field as Jackson was — at Louisville and during his first few years with the Baltimore Ravens — but the upright stride, light feet and explosive burst upfield are near carbon copies. Jackson was a bit more efficient with his footwork and eyes through his progression, but I’ve noted since September that Daniels has made strides in his willingness to trust his eyes and the structure of LSU’s passing game to give him the right answers.
The Jackson comparisons hold in throwing styles, too. Daniels has just enough velocity to make throws into closing windows, but his best clips are on layered or touch throws deep downfield. Daniels and the LSU staff leaning into that strength has paid huge dividends for this offense, as Daniels is one of just two FBS QBs with a completion rate over 70 percent and an air-yards-per-attempt average of more than 10.0.
Few first round quarterbacks have had as much doubt entering the league as Lamar Jackson, evidenced by the fact that he went 32nd overall and was asked by many outside the league to move positions. Jackson has since emerged as an MVP winner and is a Super Bowl hopeful with the Ravens this year, in addition to being in the MVP race again.
Daniels is putting on a show in 2023. He has recorded an elite 94.6 overall grade with a 91.2 passing grade and a 92.0 rushing grade. Among FBS players, running backs included, Daniels ranks 11th in rushing yards (1,028), all while placing third in total passing yards (3,163). He is second to only Drake Myae in big-time throws (27), yet he still has a low turnover-worthy play percentage (2.4%), building on how well he took care of the ball in 2022.
Daniels has almost 20 more plays of 20+ yards than second place:
Most plays of 20+ yards in 2023:— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) November 13, 2023
76 - Jayden Daniels (this guy is ridiculous)
57 - Michael Penix
55 - Caleb Williams
ESPN’s Mel Kiper called Daniels “a game manager who is also a supreme playmaker” and noted he could be ranked fourth behind Williams, Drake Maye, and Shedeur Sanders.
Doubts, however, mostly start with his frame: Daniels is an ideal 6’3, but is expected to weigh around 185 lbs at the combine. That helps Daniels run around a 4.5 and that could make him among the fastest QBs in the NFL, but as he bulks up for the league, his speed will naturally decrease and change his threat as a runner. Jackson, for example, weighs about 30 lbs heavier than Daniels. Skepticism extends to his arm, as “inconsistent throwing motion” and lack of engagement between upper and lower body is a concern for his accuracy, timing and power.
Daniels is excelling at LSU, where he has blown up with receivers Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr., but in his final season at Arizona State, he had 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 13 games.
It would seem Jayden Daniels is much more of a project than another LSU transfer standout like Joe Burrow and therefore won’t have the same stock that Burrow had in 2020 as the first overall pick. Maybe instead a proper comparison, on the high end, would be Jalen Hurts, a second round pick who progressively got better as a backup before becoming a starter on the Eagles.
In the case of the Rams, what Jayden Daniels could provide is reason to draft a left tackle in the first round and to wait on a quarterback. Would it be better to take a quarterback who might have lower odds of being a starter than a top-5 pick, but who could allow the Rams to take a prospect at another position early who has higher odds of being a legitimate NFL star and then waiting o na QB?
Daniels still has to finish out the year and then see how he does through the combine process. He seems fit to standout in a number of areas like speed, agility, and the fact that he’s an experienced college veteran with a lot of reps under his belt, but will have to answer questions of his pocket presence and throwing ability when the tests get significantly harder at the NFL level.
Daniels might make sense for the Rams...as a second round pick.