The NFL draft advisory board’s measure of a player matters. It probably mattered a lot for James Daniels.
The idea for the center to leave the University of Iowa a year early for the NFL probably was something the junior from Warren, Ohio, had in the back of his mind. And then before Christmas, Daniels got a favorable grade from the draft advisory committee. Then, you started to hear about how Daniels might have a decision to make and now the 6-4, 290-pounder is headed to the NFL.
With an Instagram post, which seems to be the chosen way to get the word out. Daniels followed junior cornerback Josh Jackson with the goodbye Instagram. Jackson declared for the NFL on Wednesday.
“My decision to attend the University of Iowa was the best decision of my life,” Daniels said. “I have had an incredible college experience with memories I will always cherish. I am grateful for my UI family and the connections that will last a lifetime.
“After praying about this and discussing the options with my family and coaches, I have decided to declare for early entry in the 2018 NFL draft.”
Daniels joins Jackson as Hawkeyes making the early leap into the draft this year. Maybe the fact that Daniels is only 20 was your hedge.
“People get drafted at any age,” Daniels said after the Pinstripe Bowl. “Age doesn’t really matter, but I really do love it here. I love my teammates and the coaches. I really enjoy it here. Tough decision.”
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Daniels is the ninth underclassman to declare early for the NFL draft in Kirk Ferentz’s 19 seasons as Iowa’s head coach (Fred Russell, Dallas Clark, Shonn Greene, Bryan Bulaga, Amari Spievey, Tyler Sash, Riley Reiff, Jackson and now Daniels).
Daniels started at center in all 12 games in which he played in 2017, missing the season opener due to injury. Daniels started 11 games at center in 2016, missing two contests due to injury. He played in all 14 games as a true freshman in 2015, with two starts.
Daniels earned honorable mention all-Big Ten recognition this season from league coaches and media, and was a third-team selection as a sophomore. He was named to Rimington Award and Outland Trophy preseason watch lists and earned academic all-Big Ten honors this season.
The draft advisory board gives players what essentially are three grades — round 1, round 2 and stay in school. Daniels received one of the first two. Pair this with the fact that Daniels has missed games and practice time with knee issues, and a decision to go early makes more and more sense. Daniels missed 2016 spring practice after a knee surgery.
“James was very skilled and mature when he joined our program out of high school,” Ferentz said in a statement. “It is unusual for a true freshman to step in immediately, but he is a positive guy who had the ability to do so. He has been a good student and teammate throughout his career.”
The advisory grade at least gave Daniels the idea that if he did decide to leave early, he’d have a place that would draft him.
But yes, center is trickier. The draft demand isn’t huge. Last year, five centers were drafted, ranging from the Vikings' Pat Elflein (Ohio State) in the third round to Houston’s Kyle Fuller (Baylor) in the seventh. The range of contracts for centers last year was four years and $3.7 million for Elflein to $2.4 million for Fuller. The range of signing bonuses is $936,840 to $69,216.
That should give you a sense of financials.
Between Jackson and Daniels, Daniels’ departure is a bigger hit for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has a ton of options at corner. No, they probably won’t lead the nation in interceptions and passes defended, but Matt Hankins, Manny Rugamba, Michael Ojemudia and incoming freshmen Julius Brents, D.J. Johnson, Terry Roberts and Dallas Craddieth are definitely options.
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It’s not as clear cut at center. Redshirt freshman Cole Banwart worked there late in the season, but ended up needing knee surgery. Junior guard Keegan Render did replace Daniels in the opener and could be a strong candidate.
“No bad snaps, at least,” Render said. “It was a little different. You go up and obviously make the calls all of the time. Playing next to James has helped me a lot with the call, too, throughout the year.
“It was different. Obviously, the snapping was a big difference. The guy is literally right on top of you. There are some differences, but it wasn’t too bad as a whole.”
Of course, Render is open to the move if it helps the team.
“I know head coach Ferentz and coach Brian (Ferentz) and coach (Tim) Polasek have a good idea of what they want,” Render said. “So, if they ask, I’d be open and willing to try anything for them.”
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