Since even before the college football season kicked off, it’s almost been carved in stone that the top two quarterback prospects for the 2024 NFL draft would be USC’s Caleb Williams and Drake Maye of North Carolina. But, as often happens, another prospect has chiseled his way into the top QB conversation.
LSU’s Jayden Daniels didn’t have a lot of preseason draft buzz. Daniels was generally lumped in a group with Oregon’s Bo Nix, Sam Hartman of Notre Dame and a few others as guys to watch in 2023 who could maybe play their way up draft boards. That’s exactly what the 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior has done for the Tigers.
Daniels had a pretty impressive first year in Baton Rouge in 2022 after transferring from Arizona State. He completed 68 percent of his passes at 7.5 yards per attempt while also running for nearly 900 yards. Daniels looked more confident in his arm and consistently made better decisions than he had done in three inconsistent seasons with the Sun Devils.
In 2023, he’s taken it to another level. The completion percentage is over 70 percent, and the yards per attempt have soared to over 11. He’s running more efficiently as well, while also taking better care of the ball.
Much like former LSU QB Joe Burrow, Daniels has progressed from a promising first season in the new program into a fantastic second one, a performance that should have him in serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy. Like Burrow, he’s also doing more NFL-caliber things at a higher level at quarterback in his second year.
The accuracy Daniels has shown on timing routes and anticipatory throws has really stood out. He’s more confident in his receivers, and that certainly helps, but Daniels is also throwing with better touch and pinpoint placement on those routes. There is an increased cognizance on his part of how to manipulate the defense that’s similar to what Burrow did in his epic final year.
Daniels has always had the athletic potential. He seems to have grown more comfortable in being a quarterback who can also run rather than a running quarterback, something akin to what happened for Josh Allen. His progress in understanding the defense and how to attack it has grown. That’s a very big feather in Daniels’ cap as a prospect. He’s gotten more accurate while also being more aggressive down the field. That’s not easy, but Daniels’ hard work on that front has paid off.
If he caps off the college season the way he’s been performing, I expect Daniels to be a lot closer to the top QB in the draft than the late-first/early-second round range where he’s generally projected right now. He’s been a better decision-maker and unflappable field general than either Williams or Maye in this particular college season. It’s going to take a lot for Daniels to overcome the hype of the other two, as well as the stigma against him still being the underwhelming top-shelf prospect he was before heading to LSU.
Looking back a few years, Joe Burrow was still a pretty distant third behind Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert in the November leading to the 2020 NFL draft. Once NFL coaches got more involved in the process and more evaluators watched more of Burrow’s final year instead of focusing on his lesser seasons, Burrow shot to the top. The same could very well happen for Jayden Daniels in 2024.