Jayden Daniels

NFL Draft Notes: Harrison, LSU, Texas, DeJean, Bowers

We truly are starting to see a new era of pre-draft football in the NFL. On a day in which we saw every quarterback in the first group of passers except for Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman opt out of running the 40-yard dash, we continue to report on prospects who are seeing the NFL’s scouting combine as less and less of a priority.

According to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, star Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. will not be participating in any of the testing at the combine. It doesn’t stop there, though, as Harrison has made the decision to not even train for those types of drills in the runup to the draft. Harrison will continue to work on pure football drills, allowing his tape to do the talking.

Players like Harrison have the luxury of this approach. For the last two years, Harrison has widely been considered the top wide receiver prospect in this year’s crop. He only solidified that status with a second straight stellar season with the Buckeyes. He has a fairly good idea of where he’s going to fall in the draft, so he doesn’t feel the need to display his full set of abilities in an attempt to up his draft stock. Instead, he will focus on team interviews and preparing for the more practical aspects of NFL readiness. Breer also informs us that Harrison will head to the league without an agent, joining another recent trend.

The combine and pro days remain a crucial part of the pre-draft process for many of the mid- to late-round prospects, but for top players, workouts like these are beginning to become more and more superfluous.

Here are a few other draft rumors as the combine continues:

  • On the topic of non-participants, LSU Heisman-winning quarterback Jayden Daniels and his wide receiver Malik Nabers have both opted out of their workouts in Indianapolis, choosing to work out at their pro day, instead. Today we found out that both players are also skipping the measurements portion of the combine, as well, per ESPN’s Field Yates. The two Tigers will submit to measurements at their pro day before workouts.
  • One name that’s been climbing draft boards of late is Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy. Murphy’s versatility across the line has scouts excited and makes him a fit for pretty much every squad. Reflecting this, Murphy reportedly had 25 official interviews set up at the combine, according to Tony Pauline of Sportskeeda. Pauline also reports that the Raiders, Colts, Seahawks, and Vikings have all scheduled to bring him in for an official-30 visit. The list of suitors for the Longhorn defender likely won’t stop there.
  • Another top Texas prospect, running back Jonathon Brooks continues to make his way back from ACL surgery that ended his final season in Austin. The top rusher on both ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s and Dane Brugler of The Athletic’s boards, Brooks is reportedly “healing well and as expected,” per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. While he obviously won’t be participating in any pre-draft workouts, he’s expected to be cleared for training camp.
  • Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean‘s leg injury continues to hold him out of football activities in the leadup to the draft. After already learning that he wouldn’t be available to workout at the combine, Greg Auman of FOX Sports informs us that DeJean will also not participate in physical activities at Iowa’s pro day. DeJean claims to be fully cleared from the fracture in his lower leg and that he will work out at some point before the draft, but it looks like scouts will have to make personal trips out to Iowa City in order to workout DeJean.
  • Finally, one more top draft prospect made the decision not to workout at the combine this year. Georgia tight end Brock Bowers, the top prospect at his position per both Kiper and Brugler and a likely top-10 pick, will not work out in Indianapolis. Scouts interested in seeing this Bulldog in action will have to make their way out to Georgia’s pro day.

Caleb Williams Will Not Throw At Combine

The importance of the NFL Scouting Combine continues to be called into question two years after stringent COVID-19 rules nearly caused a mass boycott of the event in 2022. The topic of the boycott brought attention to how important the combine is for late-round, fringe, and small school prospects while potentially serving as a negative for some of college football’s best. Those debates may crop up again with recent news that USC quarterback Caleb Williams plans not to throw at next week’s combine, according to Jordan Schultz of Bleacher Report.

To clarify, Williams still plans on attending the event in Indianapolis, according to Ian Rapoport. He’ll be available to interview with any interested teams. It’s unclear if he’ll perform in any of the other workouts of the combine, but we know for sure that he will not throw. Rapoport informs us that Williams’ plan is to wait until his pro day, where he will throw and workout for scouts.

There will be pundits chirping on both sides of the story. Some will support the decision, claiming that he has nothing to gain from throwing at the combine. He’s already expected to be selected at No. 1 overall and plans to throw on March 20 at the Trojan’s pro day. What good can be done by working out twice?

The other side will point to character issues that have persisted in the media throughout his junior year of college. Williams’ mentality and leadership took hits late in the year from the media after the quarterback refused to speak to reporters following what ended up being his final game of college football. Rapoport himself seemed to call out the 22-year-old citing Joe Burrow as an example of how a quarterback should handle his role and responsibilities. His refusal to work out among the other quarterbacks is sure to draw criticism from those who already believe that “off-field concerns” exist for the young passer.

In reality, there are advantages to working at the combine, namely the officiality of the measurements and the additional opportunity to work with NFL coaches. Sure, he will get to perform workouts at his pro day, but the results of timed exercises will be hand-timed. Also, while some coaches will choose to attend USC’s pro day, the combine serves as an additional opportunity to work with NFL staff. Some will look down on Williams’ decision to reject that opportunity.

So, yes, there are advantages, but are they minimal for someone with his current draft stock? That’s difficult to answer. We have certainly seen bad combine performances affect draft stock. Most recently, free agent tight end Isaac Nauta went from first-round prospect to seventh-round pick in 2019. Similarly, Bengals offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. fell to the third round after what is classically seen as one of the worst combine performances of all time. Still, there are examples of players like Terrell Suggs, who, despite a terrible combine performance, still turned out to be a top-10 pick.

Could Williams be the next to fall victim to the combine? Probably not. He isn’t expected to deliver anywhere near that poor of a performance and, even if he did, his current stock is simply too high to warrant a drastic fall. Still, when he’s already at the top of most prospect rankings, there’s nowhere for him to go but down. It’s hard to blame him for choosing not to take any chances heading into the 2024 NFL Draft.

His announcement has, obviously, caught headlines, though. In the time between the Schultz’s initial report and this one, both Schultz and Rapoport have reported on a number of other prospect’s intentions. So far, South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr., Oregon’s Bo Nix, and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy have all made it known that they intend to throw next week. Only LSU’s Jayden Daniels has joined Williams in announcing his intentions to wait until his pro day, per Rapoport. The other four passers will have the opportunity to not only work out at the combine in front of NFL coaches but also to do so in direct comparison to their competition, with the lone exceptions (so far) of Williams and Daniels.

Patriots Reportedly Open To Trading No. 3 Pick; Team Expected To Seek Mac Jones Trade

After seeing Mac Jones regress from Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2021 to third-string quarterback by the end of the 2023 campaign, the Patriots, in the first year of the post-Bill Belichick era, are widely expected to select a signal-caller in the upcoming draft. With Caleb Williams likely to be the No. 1 overall pick, New England will have at least one of Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels to choose from when it is on the clock with the No. 3 overall selection. However, ESPN’s Dan Graziano hears that the Pats are open to trading that pick and acquiring more assets to restock a generally weak roster (subscription required).

In that scenario, New England would look to free agency for a quarterback. Kirk Cousins and Baker Mayfield presently top the free agent QB class, though both players could re-sign with their current clubs before the legal tampering period opens. If that happens, the Pats would be picking from a number of backup or bridge types like Ryan Tannehill, Jameis Winston, and Drew Lock (it should be noted that Russell Wilson is also likely to hit the open market in short order).

A team like New England that is probably at least a year away from contention may be perfectly willing to roll with a stopgap option for one season if that strategy allows them to supplement other areas of need. On the other hand, the 2025 class of collegiate QBs is not shaping up to be an inspiring one, so selecting a player like Maye or Daniels now may prove to be the Patriots’ best course of action, even if the bottom-heavy 2025 crop increases the value of the No. 3 pick in 2024.

If new personnel chief Eliot Wolf and new head coach Jerod Mayo ultimately decide that a trade down makes more sense, then Graziano expects the Falcons, who presently hold the No. 8 overall pick, and the Vikings (No. 11 overall) to have interest. Atlanta, which came close to hiring Belichick as its new HC, has plenty of non-QB talent and could be a quarterback away from being a legitimate contender (though team brass is currently undecided on how it will go about upgrading the position). Minnesota, meanwhile, has already been mentioned as a trade-up candidate, and if the team is unable to agree to a new deal with Cousins by the start of the 2024 league year on March 13, it will be saddled with a $28.5MM dead money charge. Per Graziano, there are some within the Vikes organization that are particularly keen on pairing Daniels with fellow LSU product Justin Jefferson, so New England and Minnesota could line up on a trade if the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is not selected with one of the first two picks in the draft. The Vikings having their QB1 on a rookie deal would certainly help ease the sting of a Cousins departure and his dead money parting gift.

In a piece detailing the quarterback situations of a number of clubs, the NFL.com trio of Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero, and Mike Garafolo believe that the Patriots will try to trade Jones in the coming weeks. The relationship between Belichick and Jones deteriorated over Jones’ first three years in the league, and although Belichick is gone, New England’s new power brokers are seemingly prepared for some sort of reset at the position. Indeed, a change of scenery may benefit both parties.

Mark Daniels of MassLive.com, in an article that is well-worth a read for Pats fans in particular, notes that Jones was (understandably) frustrated with Belichick’s decision to hire Matt Patricia as a replacement for Josh McDaniels in 2022 and to shift to an offensive system different than the one in which Jones thrived in his rookie season. Jones’ resistance to those changes angered Belichick, and the HC-QB dynamic went downhill from there.

Hiring Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator in 2023 did not yield the results that the team hoped for, and Mark Daniels reports that New England staff did not view Jones as a strong enough leader, believing instead that the third-year passer simply “wanted to be one of the guys.” Plus, when the Pats’ offense sputtered, Jones began to freelance and play outside of O’Brien’s system, and as Mike Giardi of the Boston Sports Journal observes, Jones simply lost the locker room.

After he was benched in favor of Bailey Zappe, Jones watched every NFL game he ever played in to see what went wrong, and he ultimately acknowledged that his improvisational tactics were a major reason for the offense’s struggles. Given his status as a 2021 first-rounder and the potential he showed that season, Jones may draw some trade interest, but as Mark Daniels unsurprisingly reports, the Patriots will not exercise Jones’ fifth-year option if he is still on the club by the May 2 deadline to pick up or decline those options.

Teams Likely To Move Up For QBs In 2024 Draft

For much of the 2023 football season, there was a clear 1-2 punch at the top of the list of 2024 draft eligible quarterbacks. It was also widely believed that this year’s crop would provide a good bit of depth throughout all stages of the draft. Both of those opinions appear to be up for debate now as depth issues and the projected 2025 class have teams thinking twice about how long they can wait for a young project passer this April.

The clarity at the top of the draft has been muddied a bit by the meteoric rise of LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels, who has pushed North Carolina’s Drake Maye for the honor of QB2 behind Caleb Williams from USC. For some time, it was thought that the first-round considerations ended there, but all of the sudden, three other college passers have entered the conversation of Day 1 draft candidates.

Initially, quarterbacks like Michigan national champ J.J. McCarthy, national championship runner-up Michael Penix Jr. out of Washington, and Oregon’s Bo Nix were considered strong contributors to the depth of the draft’s quarterback class, slotting in as likely Day 2 picks. The depth behind them, though, began to slim down as fringe Day 2-3 passers saw the allure of returning to the NIL-potential of college ball and a chance to better their stock for the subsequent year’s draft.

This migration of 2024 depth pieces to the 2025 class has also done little to improve the projection of next year’s quarterback crop. It improves the depth of the 2025 quarterback class, but the group of passers in college next year remains bottom-heavy. Early class headliners like Texas passer Quinn Ewers, Georgia’s Carson Beck, and the prodigal son at Colorado, Shedeur Sanders, all give reasons to excite, but none have cemented themselves as first-rounders and, beyond them, the cupboard is quite bare for top talent.

A few veterans who once sought Day 1 acclaim have disappointed in recent years to the point where they have left for greener college pastures in an attempt to rejuvenate their potential draft status. Journeyman Dillon Gabriel, who has spent three years at UCF and two years at Oklahoma, will spend his final year of eligibility replacing Nix in Eugene. Once promising Duke passer Riley Leonard will try to replace Sam Hartman as the next leader at Notre Dame. A former freshman phenom at Miami (FL), Tyler Van Dyke will try to reestablish his passing prowess at Wisconsin. The Hurricanes will replace Van Dyke with former Washington State passer Cameron Ward, who backed off an earlier declaration for this year’s draft in order to announce his transfer to Coral Gables. After an injury-ruined 2023, Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels, one of a few talented passers who returned to their college home instead of transferring, is on the shortlist of Heisman Trophy contenders after impressing in 2022.

A number of sophomore passers will hope to have breakout years that help them rise like Daniels has this offseason. Penn State’s Drew Allar has impressed early with his efficiency, throwing for 29 touchdowns to just two interceptions in his first two years, but has a tendency to disappear from a gameplan far too easily. Conner Weigman has done little to inspire much confidence in College Station, but the former five-star recruit will hope to rebound for new head coach Mike Elko. Lastly, SMU redshirt sophomore Preston Stone will look to take the next step this year under Rhett Lashlee, who coached the earlier-mentioned Van Dyke to his best season in south Florida.

There are several other names that could be added to the previous few paragraphs, but the inability of any of these players, like Florida State’s transfer addition D.J. Uiagalelei, new Ohio State passer Will Howard, new Huskies quarterback Will Rogers, or any of the players above, to separate themselves above the rest of the batch is a testament to the lack of true top talent in next year’s class. The potential depth is real, but if none of these names can establish themselves as potential Day 1 or 2 picks, the 2025 class faces the same dangers as this year’s group as any passers with remaining eligibility will turn back to NIL money if the NFL has yet to warm up to them.

Because of this lack of excitement in the 2025 crop, there’s belief that teams this year may be a bit more eager to take a quarterback, according to ESPN’s Pete Thamel. This sentiment was echoed today by Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network, who stated his belief that four to five teams could be looking to move up for a passer leading up to the draft due to the lack of top talent in next year’s group. This hasn’t changed the status much of the established Day 1 picks for this year, though it could push likely mid-first-rounders like Daniels and Maye up closer to the draft position of Williams. The real effect has been attributed to the likely Day 2 picks, Penix, McCarthy, and Nix.

The increased interest in this year’s fringe group can already be seen on the big board of Trevor Sikkema at Pro Football Focus. Sikkema has ranked Penix and Nix at 20th and 22nd overall, respectively, on his 2024 NFL Draft big board, placing them securely in the first round, if his rankings at all reflect NFL interest. McCarthy trails a bit, ranked at 57th, while Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt provides the only decent depth at 75th overall.

Since it’s becoming more and more likely that the Bears will keep their No. 1 overall draft slot, it falls to the Commanders (No. 2) and Patriots (No. 3) to decide how valuable Maye and Daniels will be. Both teams are likely to be interested in adding a quarterback this offseason themselves, but if they decide to stick with young passers Sam Howell or Bailey Zappe or address their needs through free agency, they could potentially cash in on a team more desperate to add a top passing prospect.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler notes the Raiders (No. 13) and the Vikings (No. 11) as potential teams to move up for a quarterback. Las Vegas is set to head into 2024 with their two veterans, Jimmy Garoppolo and Brian Hoyer, and second-year passer Aidan O’Connell, who took over as the starter for much of last year. Minnesota, on the other hand, is set to watch Kirk Cousins and Joshua Dobbs head to free agency, leaving only Nick Mullens and second-year quarterback Jaren Hall on the roster.

While those two teams could prove to be contenders for Maye or Daniels, the possibilities are far more numerous for new potential Day 1 picks like Penix and Nix. They could end up falling anywhere in the first round, getting selected in the late-teens or seeing teams trade up at the end of the first night to guarantee that fifth-year option granted to first-round picks. Regardless, teams are being forced to do their homework on future draft classes in order to determine their quarterback needs for this year. The result could see up to five or six passers hearing their names called on the night of April 25th.

Raiders Targeting Jayden Daniels?

The Raiders will be eyeing quarterback prospects in the upcoming draft, but they might not wait for a signal-caller to fall to No. 13. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, the Raiders could be a trade suitors for a top-three pick.

Fowler notes that head coach Antonio Pierce is a “big fan” of Jayden Daniels, but the organization would surely have to trade for the LSU quarterback. Pierce and Daniels crossed paths during their stints at Arizona State, and that familiarity makes the Raiders a natural landing spot for the prospect.

Further, Fowler notes that Pierce was evaluating offensive coordinator candidates with “the loose possibility of Daniels in mind.” The team’s first choice for OC, Kliff Kingsbury, most recently worked with the draft’s top QB prospect, USC’s Caleb Williams. When Kingsbury declined the Raiders offer and opted for the Commanders’ job, the Raiders pivoted to Luke Getsy.

Fowler assumes that the Bears will take Williams with the first-overall pick, meaning the Raiders will likely have to trade with the Commanders (No. 2) or the Patriots (No. 3) if they want to add Daniels or UNC’s Drake Maye. New GM Tom Telesco was known for his drafting prowess during his years with the Chargers, although his strategy usually didn’t feature home-run, draft-day trades.

With that in mind, it’s notable that the team recently met with Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. at the Senior Bowl, per Vincent Bonsignore of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Penix is hoping to emerge as the fourth QB on the draft board (following Williams, Daniels, and Maye), although he’s not consistently projected for the first round.

Regardless of how things unfold during the draft, it’s likely that the Raiders will be eyeing a new signal-caller in 2024. Jimmy Garoppolo barely played once Pierce was named the interim head coach, and the veteran will likely be a trade/cut candidate. And while rookie Aidan O’Connell was a standout during the final chunk of the season, it sounds like the Raiders envision him as more of a backup. If the Raiders strike out in the draft, the team could turn to the likes of Kirk Cousins, Baker Mayfield, and Jameis Winston via free agency.

Vikings, Broncos On Radar To Trade Up For First-Round QB?

This year’s draft could begin with three quarterbacks, and the teams currently holding the top choices have been steadily linked to taking a first-round passer. Teams in need of signal-callers who do not carry friendly draft real estate will, of course, be monitoring the buzz circulating around the Bears, Commanders and Patriots’ draft blueprints.

Two clubs who appear to be among those watching top QB prospects look to be those positioned just outside the top 10. Holding the Nos. 11 and 12 overall picks, the Vikings and Broncos are believed to be interested in drafting a quarterback high. While it will take considerable draft capital to climb into the top three, neither of these two are in good shape at the position. Minnesota, however, may still have the inside track on Kirk Cousins, who has expressed his fondness for his Twin Cities situation on a number of occasions.

[RELATED: Vikings Want To Re-Sign Kirk Cousins]

Some around the league are keeping an eye on the Vikings’ interest in moving up for a passer, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler offers, noting the team did extensive work on the QB front last year. The Vikes were the team most closely tied to showing Trey Lance interest — before the Cowboys completed a trade for the former 49ers No. 3 overall pick — and they did not come to an agreement on another extension with Cousins.

Guaranteed money into the deal’s third year provided a sticking point, and the Vikings merely restructured Cousins’ contract. The latter transaction has put Minnesota in a time crunch, and the team could face the prospect of losing its starting QB — who has mentioned testing free agency — and being hit with a $28.5MM dead-money bill brought on by void years. If the Vikings do not re-sign Cousins by the start of the 2024 league year (March 13), that $28.5MM accelerates onto their 2024 cap sheet. Not quite the Tom Brady void years-driven cap charge the Buccaneers just faced ($35.1MM), but that is a high dead-cap number devoted to one player.

Cousins, 35, will undoubtedly factor in a potential Vikings desire to trade up for a quarterback into his latest free agency decision. Cousins is the longest-tenured Vikings QB1 since Tommy Kramer, narrowly edging Daunte Culpepper as the third-longest-tenured QB1 in team history. Like Culpepper in 2005, Cousins is coming off a major injury. The Vikings and other teams will be factoring Cousins’ Achilles tear into prospective offers.

The Broncos are almost definitely moving on from Russell Wilson, preparing to enter dead-money infamy in the process. The forthcoming dead-cap hit will cost the Broncos $84.6MM, which will be spread over two offseasons due to the expected post-June 1 designation. This stands to limit the Broncos’ interest in pursuing a pricey veteran — should any starter-caliber arms be available by the time the legal tampering period begins March 11 — and would naturally make Sean Payton‘s team more interested in a draft investment. The Wilson-fronted five-game win streak midway through this season, however, moved the Broncos down to the No. 12 slot. That will complicate a move into high-end QB real estate.

A rumor at the East-West Shrine Game involved Payton being interested in the Broncos moving up to draft Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels, Sportskeeda’s Tony Pauline writes. Of course, the cost of doing business here would be steep — and the team would need a willing seller. The prospect of Denver trading up may already be drowning in cold water, too, with Pauline adding the team should not be considered likely to move in this direction because of the draft capital — and/or established players — that would need to be included.

The Broncos gave up their first-round picks in 2022 and ’23 in the Wilson trade, and while they obtained a 2023 first-rounder from the Dolphins in the Bradley Chubb swap, it was subsequently thrown in to acquire Payton’s rights last year. This stands to be the Broncos’ first chance to use a Round 1 pick since they nabbed Patrick Surtain ninth overall in 2021. Surtain has become one of the NFL’s top young corners, and GM George Patonwho is still with the team despite being the point man behind the Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett calls — said Surtain is viewed as a cornerstone piece. Denver’s actions at last year’s trade deadline, which featured at least two first-rounders to even warrant a Surtain discussion, back that up. Pauline adds the Broncos do not want to part with Surtain and would only do so as a last resort in an effort to trade up for a QB.

Wilson’s 2023 rebound notwithstanding, the Broncos have obviously struggled to fill this spot since Peyton Manning‘s 2016 retirement. They were in the Cousins mix in 2018 but bowed out — as the Vikings emerged in pole position — en route to Case Keenum. The Broncos would seemingly have another shot at Cousins now, though QB demand would still make the veteran starter costly — even after the Achilles tear. As of early February, the Vikings are projected to hold more than $24MM in cap space; the Broncos are nearly $24MM over the projected salary ceiling.

Most around the NFL view the Broncos reconciling with Wilson as unlikely, Fowler adds. If Wilson were to remain on Denver’s roster past the fifth day of the 2024 league year, his 2025 base salary ($37MM) locks in. That would balloon Denver’s 2025 dead money for a Wilson release past $85MM. Hence, the team’s controversial maneuvering in an attempt to move the date on which Wilson’s injury guarantee vests.

Although Wilson was fond of Payton prior to the parties’ partnership, Fowler adds Payton let it be known behind the scenes he was not big on the ex-Seahawks star. Wilson’s penchant for creating plays out of structure ran counter to how Payton prefers his offense to run, being part of the reason — along with the injury guarantee — the Broncos benched him for Jarrett Stidham in Week 17. Fowler mentions Minnesota as a destination Wilson would likely pursue, given Kevin O’Connell‘s presence, in the event Cousins leaves after six years. O’Connell worked alongside ex-Seahawks OC Shane Waldron under Sean McVay. The Vikings also roster Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson.

If/once Wilson departs Denver, his next team will not need to pay him nearly what the Broncos and Seahawks have. Wilson’s 2023 rebound still probably places him as a mid-tier starter, but Fowler adds his next team could build around him more effectively due to the offset language in the Broncos’ five-year, $245MM extension. Wilson signing at a low rate would be punitive for the Broncos, as their two-year starter’s next deal helps determine how much dead money will be on tap.

Cousins and Wilson join Baker Mayfield and Ryan Tannehill as experienced starter options set to hit the market. But Denver and Minnesota will need to weigh their chances of trading up in Round 1 against spending on a veteran. There will be plenty of moving parts at QB for certain teams this offseason, with the Bears’ upcoming Williams-or-Justin Fields decision a rather important domino as well.

QB Jayden Daniels Climbing Draft Boards

For much of the past year, it has been a two-man race at the top of the quarterback prospect rankings for the 2024 NFL Draft, with USC’s Caleb Williams sitting at a commanding 1 and North Carolina’s Drake Maye trailing at 2. Don’t look now, but LSU quarterback, and now the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Jayden Daniels is reportedly gaining steam in the race for the top-two, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated.

Daniels is fairly new to this conversation. The fifth-year starter spent three seasons at Arizona State before finding his way to LSU. After an impressive freshman year that saw him throw for nearly 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns to just two interceptions, COVID-19 limited Daniels and the Sun Devils to only four games in 2020, in which he would throw five touchdowns and only one interception. He would also add four scores on the ground as a sophomore, an improvement in only four games over his three-touchdown total as a freshman. His final year in Tempe saw Daniels struggle, throwing only 10 touchdowns and rushing for six, but throwing a career-high 10 interceptions.

Daniels would transfer to LSU the following year and immediately show the promise from his freshman season, with almost identical passing stats of nearly 3,000 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and three interceptions, while adding on 885 rushing yards for 11 more scores on the ground. Daniels would elevate things to a whole new level in his Heisman-winning campaign. Utilizing his extra COVID year of eligibility, Daniels returned to throw for 3,812 yards, completing 72.2 percent of his passes for an outstanding 40 touchdowns to only four picks. He elevated his rushing, too, racking up 1,134 yards for 10 more touchdowns.

Now this certainly isn’t a consensus decision, but all it takes is one team to believe in what Daniels has to offer over Maye in order to secure his status as a top draft pick in April. According to Breer, at least one NFL executive is feeling that way. Breer explains that he was tasked with determining if Daniels has a chance at all to catch Maye as the second-best quarterback in the draft.

An AFC executive replied that it’s already happened, saying, “It might be going in the opposite direction. Jayden is pulling away from Drake for me…He makes every throw, his deep accuracy is rare, he’s explosive as a runner but is a pocket passer. It’s like (Deshaun Watson).”

Others maybe weren’t ready to go that far but offered the sentiment that, even if Daniels hasn’t quite reached Maye’s level, there isn’t much separation between the two, though the quarterbacks are considered “different types of players.” An NFC executive agreed, saying that the gap is “not big anymore,” and that if a team is willing to build around his skillset, like the Colts are trying to do with Anthony Richardson, he could end up going just as early.

There are still others who don’t quite see Daniels encroaching on Maye. An AFC scout gave his evaluation, stating that he sees a floor of Dak Prescott and a ceiling of Justin Herbert for Maye, claiming he projects as a potential Pro Bowler. On the flipside, he sees Daniels as more of a system quarterback with a ceiling comparison of Jimmy Garoppolo or Kirk Cousins. That scout praises Daniels’ athleticism but doesn’t hold the same esteem for his abilities as a passer.

It’s a common argument that we’ve seen time and again. Regardless of the dissenting opinions, it appears that Daniels has done enough in Baton Rouge this year to put himself in the conversation. Once considered a likely Day 3 draft pick, Daniels is having his name tossed around with a potential top-five pick. If he keeps it up through the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day, Daniels could end up in the top few picks among Williams and Maye.