There was no guarantee that Jayden Daniels would be LSU football’s starting quarterback, let alone an NFL Draft prospect this season.
But, after winning the starting job and surviving a rocky start, the Arizona State transfer has developed into a future pro after struggling last season with the Sun Devils. He’s become more decisive and aggressive as a passer, pairing those newfound traits with his elite rushing skills.
“I think as the year goes on and the team gets a little more success, you become more comfortable with the guys you’re throwing to,” said Chad Reuter, an NFL Draft analyst for NFL.com. “And I think he’s very much progressed.”
But the growth in Daniels’ game has presented a double-edged sword for LSU fans.
His stellar play has led LSU to victories, but his draft stock has risen. Daniels may be a senior, but he has one more year of eligibility.
“I think (Daniels) is one of those guys that has flown under the (NFL Draft) radar a little bit and could surprise some people,” Reuter said.
How Jayden Daniels’ draft stock has evolved
Daniels has 2,377 passing yards, 26 total touchdowns, and only two interceptions this season for the Tigers (9-2, 6-1 SEC) and three games left, starting with a matchup Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN) at Texas A&M (4-7, 1-6). According to Pro Football Focus, he also has 911 yards rushing, a 69.3% completion percentage, and a 104.8 NFL passer rating.
But Daniels’ season hasn’t always looked as good as the numbers have indicated.
At the start of the year, Daniels was uncomfortable in the pocket and consistently on the wrong page with his new receivers. His accuracy was too inconsistent, he failed to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups his talented wideouts were likely to win, and he rarely pushed the ball downfield with his arm. He was consistently dynamic as a runner, but LSU had trouble getting anything going in the passing game.
But as Daniels became more comfortable within LSU’s offense, most of those issues started to fade. According to Reuter, who has covered the draft since 2000, Daniels’ first read has been open more frequently, helping his accuracy, allowing him to make quicker decisions, and minimizing the margin for error he’s had with his footwork.
Getting more comfortable with his new receivers, like Kayshon Boutte, Malik Nabers, and Mason Taylor has also helped him in spades.
“College coaches are smart. They know if they limit their quarterback to one half of the field and then tell them, ‘if you don’t see anything there, then run, use your legs,’ that’s a smart way to coach him up. And it’s not necessarily helping him look to both sides and down through progressions and all that stuff,” Reuter said. “That’s not the college coach’s job to ensure he’s doing what the scouts want to see him do. They’re trying to win games.”
Besides his ability to read defenses and his improved comfort within LSU’s offense, Reuter notes that Daniels’ arm strength should be strong enough for the next level and that his improved play against stronger SEC competition should only benefit his draft stock.
But there are still some improvements the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Daniels needs to make for him to succeed in the NFL. Reuter believes that Daniels’ accuracy with making throws on the run needs to improve and that his physical frame could use an extra 10-15 pounds, even if he has bulked up compared to his freshman year.