With the Combine all wrapped up and free agency less than a week away, it’s time for another scouting report on a player the Falcons have shown interest in. Today’s player is C/G James Daniels from Iowa, who the Falcons had a formal meeting with at the 2018 NFL Combine.
Daniels did a phenomenal job in the athletic testing and has the look of a high-level zone-scheme lineman. To get a better picture of Daniels’ skillset, I watched him against Penn State, Wisconsin, and North Texas. Check out my extensive thoughts on his game and his potential fit with the Falcons below.
C/G James Daniels, Iowa
Daniels is an elite athlete for an interior offensive lineman. He’s a smooth, fluid mover in space with good burst off the line and plus agility. Expert at executing second-level blocks with exceptional understanding of angles and positioning. Natural feel for sealing off defenders in space. Daniels has strong hands and uses them effectively. He’s quick off the snap with his punches and knows when to latch on and when to let go.
Daniels possesses a high football IQ, with an advanced understanding of protections and plus ability to decode and pick up blitzes. Technically sound in his game with good awareness. He looks for work when not engaged and holds his blocks until the whistle. Daniels has a well-rounded game and is effective as a pass protector and run blocker. His positional versatility is also an asset—has played guard and center in college and should be able to play both in the NFL.
Daniels is not overly physical with his blocks and his play strength is just average. His best fit is almost certainly in a zone-blocking scheme and he may be restricted to teams that run it. Can be susceptible to power and bull rushes, particularly if the defender gets his hands on him early. There were some concerns about size, but Daniels quieted those by weighing in at 6’4, 305 at the Combine.
He could use more strength in his lower body and could improve his ability to anchor against power. Daniels speed can sometimes be used against him, as he has a tendency to disengage too early from his initial block in order to reach his target at the second level more quickly. That vacated gap can be exploited by savvy or especially quick defenders to sneak into the backfield.
A big riser at the 2018 NFL Combine, James Daniels is an ideal fit for zone-scheme teams looking for a technically proficient and highly athletic interior offensive lineman. It’s hard to say if he’s a better fit at center or guard, but he’s big enough to play either and that positional versatility can be valuable—particularly to a team like the Falcons, who could have a decision to make with aging C Alex Mack in 2-3 years.
His athleticism and ability to make blocks at the second level are very impressive. Daniels has a natural feel for executing these blocks and makes it look effortless at times, flowing just past his target defender and then walling him off from the side. His play strength is merely average, but it’s more than enough when paired with his athletic ability. Once Daniels gets out in space, he’s got plenty of momentum to pancake LBs and Ss in the open field. Still, with time in an NFL weight room, I think Daniels can improve his lower body strength and anchor to become more resilient against bull rushes.
Daniels is a perfect fit for the Falcons offense, and he would upgrade the RG spot from Day 1. His understanding of the ZBS and advanced technique in pass protection should enable him to acclimate quickly to the NFL. He’ll have his early struggles against top-tier power rushers, but Daniels has the look of a potential Pro Bowl-caliber interior offensive lineman within a few years. With his Combine performance, however, he’s almost certainly elevated himself into the late first round conversation.
Grade: 1.5 (late first, early second)
What do you think of James Daniels? How do you feel about the Falcons drafting him? Is a first-round pick too high? Who are some other interior offensive lineman that you’ve got your eyes on for Atlanta?