Upon his arrival to Tempe, Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels was seen as a freshman sensation. The San Bernardino, Calif., native displayed many flashes of excitement during his first season under center, putting not only himself but also Arizona State into a larger spotlight in which the Sun Devils have so desperately sought.
Daniels became the first Sun Devils quarterback to start as a true freshman in program history, and produced fairly well in his first season under center with nearly 3,000 passing yards and 20 combined touchdowns.
A shortened 2020 campaign thanks to COVID-19 saw Daniels and the rest of the Sun Devils play only four games before the team was forced to effectively cancel its season. Daniels didn't get the opportunity to display the strides he made heading into his sophomore season, despite scoring nine combined touchdowns and throwing just one interception through those four games. Arizona State finished 2-2.
Now, Daniels approaches the 2021 season as potentially his last year at Arizona State, with the 2022 NFL Draft awaiting the draft-eligible quarterback. Before Daniels can turn his dreams of turning pro into fruition, business must first be handled at ASU.
It's the Small Things
There's no doubting Daniels is a playmaker with the ball in his hands. The countless damage he's done with his legs combined with his ability to throw excellent deep passes for big plays make him an exciting prospect for professional consideration.
However, there's plenty of work for Daniels to do in order to polish his game for the next level. That's not a slight to Daniels in any fashion, as he's the best quarterback to come through Tempe in a long time. Yet the jump to handling duties in the NFL is in a completely different realm, as minor tweaks and details make all the difference on a play-to-play basis.
This is something ASU offensive coordinator Zak Hill alluded to in an appearance on The College Football Daily podcast earlier this year:
"He’s a great kid. He’s a great player. I enjoyed being around him and working with him, and developing him,” said Hill on the podcast.
“He’s still got a lot of things to work on and develop especially at the quarterback position because there’s so many intricacies with that position. But he does a really good job understanding the offense and what we’re trying to do."
Those things, ranging from showing the ability to progress through reads to consistent accuracy on short to intermediate routes, will be a focal point for scouts of NFL teams to focus on when Daniels takes the field for Year 3.
Work for the NFL Draft never truly dies down, rather falling into cycles of whichever draft class scouts and personnel decide to focus on. Ahead of the 2021 college football season, mock drafts and player rankings have already begun for the 2022 NFL Draft.
From a national media perspective, it appears they aren't sold on Daniels. Pro Football Focus believes Daniels is the 72nd-best quarterback in the FBS heading into the season, while other media outlets have Daniels going later in the draft.
To get a better sense on Daniels and where his current 2022 draft stock is, I reached out to Zack Patraw, president of NFL Draft Bible on Sports Illustrated.
Patraw was complimentary of Daniels, while also recognizing what Daniels needs to do in order to see his stock rise.
NFL Draft . . . Biblically Speaking
As of now, Patraw sees Daniels as a potential project for teams to work on.
"There is no doubt that Jayden Daniels is a talented player," said Patraw. "The big issue with him is that his size will hinder his success in the NFL. Daniels needs to put on muscle weight to withstand the physicality of the NFL.
"If he stays at his current weight (185-pounds) at 6-foot-3, he will be an early Day-3 pick that a team will look to take a chance on developing and adding weight to."
Frame is a common argument against Daniels, as quarterbacks are prone to taking a large amount of hits over the course of the season. Should Daniels add muscle to his frame and bulk up by the time of the NFL Combine for all league evaluators to see in person, questions about his size may disappear.
Of course, quarterbacks enter the league without looking like a prime Ben Roethlisberger and are able to succeed. Players such as Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray received similar remarks heading into the process, although all of the aforementioned quarterbacks were more polished and refined when compared to where Daniels currently finds himself.
Should he enter the draft, Daniels will have his eyes on going sooner rather than later. Daniels has an extra year of eligibility added to his collegiate career thanks to an NCAA ruling where all 2020 fall and winter athletes, actively playing or not, were given another thanks to the pandemic cutting many seasons short.
Perhaps Daniels is willing to work on himself through college as opposed to declaring for the draft to only go late or even possibly undrafted. In all likelihood, however, Daniels will likely enter the draft process looking to go early. Patraw offered this to say on what Daniels needs to do in order to find himself in first-round territory:
"The first and most important thing we need to see is that Daniels can fill out his scrawny frame," said Patraw. "He needs to work on his footwork and learn more of the mechanics of being a quarterback rather than an athlete. Being poised under pressure and learning to throw with bodies all around him will be a vital piece to add to ensure his success."
Returning for a senior season is certainly a possibility for Daniels, at least if he's looking to boost his draft stock higher than what it currently is projected to be.
"It's a great idea to entertain that thought," said Patraw on Daniels potentially returning to Arizona State for his senior season.
"It's a weaker quarterback class this year, which means he may test the waters in the NFL Draft, but it would be a great idea to return to Arizona State and work on the nuances of being a quarterback and work on bulking up."
There's no doubting the talents of Daniels and what he can do for Arizona State. Should he enter the draft next season, there's a very high probability he is drafted in the fourth or fifth round.
The 2021 season will be a pivotal one for Daniels to showcase any improvements made, an opportunity that became extremely difficult for him and the rest of the Sun Devils to do last season.
Arizona State knows what Daniels can become. Fans and media alike also know the potential Daniels has. Yet, at the moment, scouts and NFL Draft evaluators know what Daniels needs to do in order to see his name rise throughout league circles.
Following this season, Daniels will need to have important conversations about his future. An efficient 2021 campaign will do wonders for Daniels' stock, whereas disappointing outings will make the decision to go pro even tougher.
For now, however, Daniels' future is in the hands of only himself, and how far he's able to improve over the next five months.
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Donnie Druin is a Deputy Editor with AllSunDevils. Follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin, and AllSunDevils @AllSunDevils. Like and follow AllSunDevils on Facebook, and for more ASU news visit https://www.si.com/college/arizonastate/