Iowa Football

James Daniels' NFL decision made sense to everyone at Iowa

20-year-old former Hawkeye could find himself in the first round of the NFL draft

Iowa Hawkeyes offensive lineman James Daniels (78) blocks Ohio State Buckeyes defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle (93) and linebacker Malik Harrison (39) during the second half of a game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, November 4, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes offensive lineman James Daniels (78) blocks Ohio State Buckeyes defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle (93) and linebacker Malik Harrison (39) during the second half of a game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, November 4, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — In the grand scheme, a few pounds don’t seem like much, but somewhere in that margin is the difference between college football and the NFL.

James Daniels was listed as a 285-pounder during his career at Iowa. He stepped on the scales this week at the NFL combine and hit 306 pounds.

“For me, it was pretty easy,” Daniels said. “You just eat like a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and a protein shake every night and you can gain 10 pounds in a week, two weeks easily.”

As you know from following running back Akrum Wadley’s roller coaster ride with weight at Iowa, Iowa coaches and strength and conditioning staff sets goal weights for each player.

“Your weight is designated by the coaching staff and strength coach,” Daniels said. “In college, you’re not blocking 320-, 330-, 340-pound defensive linemen, so there’s no point in being 300-plus. Now, I’m making that transition to the NFL, and I decided to gain weight.

“Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable at this weight.”

You don’t have to go to class in the NFL. So, the strength and conditioning component becomes a year-round endeavor.

“In the NFL, football is a job,” Daniels said. “Now, D-linemen are going to be better, bigger, faster, stronger, so whatever NFL team chooses me, I just have to get better and focus on my fundamentals. Use those fundamentals I learned at Iowa.”

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The fact that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz sent a text to Daniels right after the regular season ended about the possibility of declaring early for the NFL draft says someone saw this coming. Daniels left Iowa with one year of eligibility remaining.

Daniels, who’ll be just six credits short of his degree after this spring semester, is running drills this week with four other former Iowa teammates. The outside world might have been a little surprised to see Daniels declare. He is just 20 and didn’t redshirt. His teammates totally understood it.

“Another question scouts ask me, if I could bring someone with me to the NFL Draft, who would it be?” Wadley asked. “And I always say James Daniels or Josh Jackson (also at the combine). James Daniels really great talent, good skills, great personality, too. You hang around James Daniels, and I have no doubt that he’s going to do well.”

Fellow former Iowa O-lineman Sean Welsh had a front-row seat for Daniels' three years at Iowa. At first, he was kind of surprised at the decision, but then Welsh really thought about it.

“He’s an incredibly bright guy,” Welsh said. “He’s very smart and he’s very good situationally. It’s one thing to be book smart and great in the film room. When he’s out there and it’s flying around, he’s able to zone in and ID the look and get everyone set. He’s very quick and really intelligent.”

Daniels is 20. Just like most 20-year-olds, he plays video games. During his interview on Thursday, Daniels referenced the John Madden NFL video game.

“I remember playing Madden and the offensive line would get a holding call,” Daniels said. “That’s not your choice on Madden. I realized next year, there’s going to be some kid playing Madden and it’s going to be me with the holding call.”

Daniels was asked what he needed to sell this week. He put his NFL scout hat on.

“Personally, the question I would have for me as a scout is can you play guard, can you play something other than center?” Daniels said. “I’m not sure how much drill work I’ll do at guard (Friday), but I can play guard.”

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Daniels played guard for the Hawkeyes as a true freshman in 2015, so there’s video of him at the position.

The combine is about seeing if a player can hack it in the NFL, measuring their bodies, tracking their medical and running through feats of strength and speed. Daniels didn’t run the 40-yard dash on Friday, but received raves for his drill work, with Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller tweeting “Iowa center James Daniels is sooooo smooth. Just looks like a natural athlete with quick feet, easy hip movements.”

Daniels, projected as a second rounder with first-round potential, learned a lot about himself on the field when he was a sophomore at Harding High School in his hometown Warren, Ohio. It was the first time he played center in a game. Inches in front of him was Billy Price. It was a rivalry game with Price’s Austintown-Fitch team and the season opener.

Price had already committed to Ohio State and was considered the best D-lineman in the state. He also was an all-American as a senior for the Buckeyes last year and won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center. During the bench press drills on Thursday, Price suffered a partially torn pectoral muscle.

“That first game, you can check my highlight tape, I pancaked him twice,” Daniels said. He’s a really good friend to me, I always wish him good luck. He was the first person who showed me I was good enough to play Division I football. He was an Ohio State commit; I was a sophomore with no offers. Being able to block the best defensive linemen in the state for a couple of plays, that opened my eyes that I was capable of playing Division I football.”

Ferentz sent Daniels another text this week.

“Coach Ferentz, I won’t put words in his mouth,” Daniels said, “you can ask him yourself, but coach Ferentz understood my decision and he was happy for me. He texted me earlier and said good luck and all of that stuff.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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