Iowa Football

Versatility will help Iowa's James Daniels, Sean Welsh make their way in the NFL

Daniels talks about his decision to leave Iowa early

Iowa Hawkeyes offensive lineman James Daniels speaks to the media during the 2018 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center on Thursday. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa Hawkeyes offensive lineman James Daniels speaks to the media during the 2018 NFL Combine at the Indianapolis Convention Center on Thursday. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports)
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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Kirk Ferentz has been doing football for a while now. He can kind of see things coming.

So, after the Nebraska game last November, the Iowa head coach sent a text to junior center James Daniels asking him to come into the office for a chat.

A good chat.

“He said I’d have the opportunity to be able to leave early,” Daniels said Thursday at the NFL combine. “So, he asked around and then we filled out the paper work for the NFL draft advisory committee. With all of the feedback he got, we thought it’d be best if I declared early.”

Daniels waited a few days after the Pinstripe Bowl before announcing. Since then, interest in the 6-4, 306-pounder has skyrocketed. The NFL advisory committee got back to Daniels with a second-round grade. For the heck of it, Daniels asked Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson what grade he received from the committee. You know what kind of season Jackson had, led the nation in interceptions (eight) and passes defensed (26). He also earned consensus all-American.

“It (his draft grade) wasn’t the main part, but it was part of it (his decision to leave early),” Daniels said. “When I got my grade, I got a second-round grade as you know, I asked Josh what his grade was. He got a second-round grade, too. So, personally, I think Josh is worth a top-10 pick and we both got a second-round grade. So, you think about that.”

Daniels still is attending classes and will need just six hours to graduate after this semester. (He’s doing the combine while carrying 14 credit hours.) After he graduates next spring, he wants to pursue his master’s degree in public health.

Daniels is good with his decision. That doesn’t mean he won’t miss Iowa City.

“Every time I played in college, I would always take a chance during the game and look into the crowd and just realize how blessed I am to be there, especially with the children’s hospital that’s right outside Kinnick Stadium,” Daniels said. “You look up halfway through a game and see the children’s hospital and realize how important football is to those kids who have diseases that weren’t their choices to have. It’s cool having this experience.”

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Daniels and fellow former Iowa O-lineman Sean Welsh went through interviews and bench press on Thursday. They both played every position except left tackle for the Hawkeyes. That versatility will be viewed as a plus.

“That’s what I bring to the table, that versatility,” Welsh said. “I’ve played every position but left tackle at Iowa. If I’m able to answer those questions, I want to be that kind of guy.”

Last summer, Welsh disclosed to the world — wrote an Op-Ed piece that ran in newspapers around Iowa and on the UI website — that he has depression.

That’s not the touchy subject you might thing it would be with NFL execs, Welsh said.

“Everybody has been very receptive,” Welsh said. “I think I’ve been very forthright with my experience. It’s something, I think is a real crisis in this country.

“You look at a lot of recent events, it’s a big issue, a hot-button issue, just mental health in general. I’d like to be someone who can bring that kind of perspective to a locker room because people are sensitive talking about it and guys, it’s something that I’ve had teammates at Iowa talk to me. I’d like to be kind of a resource for a team, in a way.”

By the way, Welsh’s nickname with teammates at Iowa was “Dad.”

“I think it’s my mannerisms or something,” Welsh said. “They think I’m like too serious of a guy or something. I don’t know. My mom says I am. Maybe it’s something I need to work on?”

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

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