Watching tape with Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels

There are those quarterback prospects who rocket up the boards in their final collegiate seasons to find themselves highly coveted by the entire NFL. We can point to Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Joe Burrow in recent years, and in the 2024 draft, LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels might be the one. In four seasons with Arizona State and LSU from 2019 through 2022, he was a good player, but not necessarily a first-round prospect.

Then, 2023 happened, and that all changed. Daniels, who is currently in New York City as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, which will be presented Saturday at 8:00 p.m. EST, completed 236 of 332 passes (71.1%) for 3,811 yards (11.1 YPA), 40 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 143.7. Add in his 1,250 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns on just 65 attempts (10.4 yards per carry), and you’re dealing with a player who seems primed for franchise quarterback status at the game’s most important position.

I was able to speak to the reigning AP College Football Player of the Year on Friday, while he was chopping it up with other Heisman Finalists — Oregon quarterback Bo Nix and Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. at Raising Cane’s in New York City. Of course, Daniels did win the award on Saturday night.

(From L. to R. — 2023 Heisman Trophy finalists Michael Penix Jr., Jayden Daniels, and Bo Nix work a shift at Raising Cane’s restaurant in Times Square, New York City. Mandatory Credit: Raising Cane’s

We got into one of Daniels’ best pitches — the deep fade ball. Overall this season, per Pro Football Focus, Daniels completed 35 of 55 passes of 20 or more air yards (63.6%) for 1,347 yards (a ridiculous 24.5 YPA), 22 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 146.8. Paramount among those deep throws are the boundary fades and slot fades that set defenses on edge in the NCAA, and will likely do so in the NFL, given Daniels’ timing, velocity, and accuracy on routes that usually lead to low-percentage plays.

Not in Daniels’ case.

Winning the Heisman Trophy.

(Syndication: The Daily Advertiser)
(Syndication: The Daily Advertiser)

Doug Farrar: Jayden, why should you win the Heisman Trophy over your fellow candidates Marvin Harrison Jr., Bo Nix, and Michael Penix Jr.? 

Jayden Daniels: I feel like I’m deserving of it, just like all the other guys are. But just based on the season we had, and that I had, I feel that we’re an explosive offense. Where we came from last year to this year, I feel that the resume speaks and the numbers speak. All the others are deserving of it also — they’re all very great players.

DF: You’ve improved so much with your accuracy through your college career from Arizona State to LSU, and there was a big jump this season. To what do you attribute that? Was there a kind of turning point? 

JD: Going out there and having a second year in the same system, with the same coaches, Coach [offensive coordinator Mike] Denbrock and [Head] Coach [Brian ] Kelly, the same staff, and the same offense, basically. All 11 guys returned [on offense], and that’s a huge thing in sports, period — especially in college football. The camaraderie and trust was there, we put in the work all season, and we took it to another level.

The art of the deep fade.

DF: Your fade throws this season have really set you apart. Per Sports Info Solutions, you’ve thrown 25 fade balls in 2023, completing 13, for 280 yards, 273 air yards, 11 touchdowns, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 131.7, which is pretty exceptional. The deep slot fades are particularly impressive in their timing and accuracy.

When you watch this slot fade to Kyren Lacy against Ole Miss in Week 5, what’s the key to throwing a great fade ball – specifically a great slot fade – and how much of this have you repped this season to make it a major factor in your game?

JD: Yeah, most definitely. Throw it to a spot, give my guys a chance, and I have 100% faith they’re going to catch it.

Daniels' favorite play from the 2023 season.

(Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports)
(Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports)

DF: If you were to pick one favorite play from this season, what would it be and why?

JD: I would say my favorite play was against Army, when I had to step up in the pocket and run, and I had Brian on the sideline. That’s a tough throw, especially rolling to your right. You’ve got to try and get your body back in position, and I had missed that throw against Auburn with Malik, so you know it meant a lot the next week to go back and hit the pass.

The 86-yard touchdown pass to Thomas happened with 5:41 left in the first quarter. Daniels was pressured by edge-rusher Elo Modozie, and broke out of the pocket to throw the deep ball to Thomas, who put cornerback Cameron Jones in the dryer with a nasty route before hitting the vertical. 

Working for the next level.

(Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports)
(Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports)

DF: Finally, why will you succeed in the NFL? 

JD: It’s my mindset and my work ethic. I’ve always worked for everything I’ve asked for.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire