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Steelers 2022 NFL Draft Quarterback Preview: Arizona State QB Jayden Daniels

We continue to break down the 2022 group of college quarterbacks.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Oregon State Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

After a month of breaking down some of the top quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft, we are finishing the position today with Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels.

Being considered by many as the top dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2019, Daniels broke many records during his time at Cajon High School, leading them to a 44-10 record over his 4 seasons and recording over 14,000 yards and 170 touchdowns. As a junior, Daniels burst onto the scene with a nearly 70% completion percentage, 5,136 passing yards, a whopping 62 passing touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. He also added 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. In his senior season, Daniels recorded a 70.7% completion percentage, 4,515 yards, 60 touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions. It did not take him long to prove himself during his freshman season at Arizona State, as his NFL passer rating of 97.2 when under pressure was the sixth highest in the entire FBS. Daniels had to deal with an extremely awkward PAC-12 season in 2020, but he still recorded nine total touchdowns and only one interception. He now heads into his junior season with the expectation that he will be an early to mid first round pick if he declares for the 2022 draft.

The first thing that stands out about Daniels is his arm strength and athleticism. Ever since Lamar Jackson entered the league, people have said that if one of these stud athletes could accurately throw the ball downfield, they would be nearly unstoppable. Now, Daniels still has a lot of mechanical issues that need to be figured out, but he is one of the more accurate deep ball throwers in college football. He has always tried to develop good chemistry with his receivers, and that may be a big reason why he always seems to hit his receivers in stride. I also believe that he is a big reason why Brandon Aiyuk was a first round pick. Before Daniels came to Arizona State, Aiyuk recorded 33 receptions for 474 yards and 3 touchdowns. When Daniels took over in 2019, Aiyuk hauled in 65 catches for 1,192 yards and 8 touchdowns. Daniels is truly a player that makes the players around him better, and that is exactly what you want from the quarterback position.

Arm strength, accuracy, and athleticism are arguably the most important things to have as a quarterback, but Daniels is not what you would consider NFL-ready. Daniels has learned some pro-style concepts during his time as the quarterback for Herm Edwards’ Sun Devils, but he has also had a lot of one-read passes and simple spread concepts. Considering that he was only listed at 185 pounds last season, it may be best if he sits for a year in the NFL to bulk up and become more comfortable running a pro-style offense. However, a BTSC member has told me that Daniels has supposedly added fifteen pounds already, which would put him around 200 pounds. It would be nice if he could add even more, but that is a good start.

Before he becomes a starter in the NFL, I would like to see him show the ability to go through his progressions and show a little more patience in the pocket. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders, and I expect his mechanics to improve as he matures into an NFL-caliber quarterback. From what I can gather, he seems to be a hard worker and has always strived to be the best at what he does. If he can become more patient as a passer in 2021, he could easily be a top ten pick in next year’s draft.

Because of the abbreviated 2020 PAC-12 season filled with cancellations and pauses, much of what we look at today will be from the 2019 season. However, we will begin with his 2020 performance against UCLA.

This game was a mixed bag for Daniels, but we will start with something positive. Daniels is in the pistol.

Daniels’ accuracy when targeting the middle of the field is excellent. Andre Johnson running a simple post route, and when Johnson gets the inside track on UCLA corner Jay Shaw, Daniels wastes no time to deliver a strike over the middle for a huge gain. When Daniels sees one-on-one coverage, he always has trust in his receivers to get open or win the jump ball. Anticipating receivers open rather than throwing to them once they are open is something that only a few college quarterbacks do well. Daniels is one of those few, and it is a key component in becoming an NFL-caliber quarterback.

The next two plays are not so pleasant. Here is the first one. Daniels is in the shotgun.

There are times when Daniels takes his eyes off a target downfield when he starts to sense pressure. On this play, Daniels changes his entire mindset when he feels pressure. He has his tight end Curtis Hodges wide open downfield. If he would have kept his body in a comfortable throwing stance and simply took a step forward in the pocket, he could have delivered that throw to his tight end for a big gain. Instead, he begins to tuck the ball as if he is going to run it. By the time he would have been able to reset his feet and make a throw, it would have been too late. Daniels has proven that he can be a reliable passer, but he needs to have a passer’s mentality. When it comes down to those split second decisions that quarterbacks have to make, Daniels needs to remember that he has the ability to win by not only using his legs, but also using his arm. This was more a mental error than anything else. His ability to throw from the pocket is not an issue. He just needs to become more confident in his passing talents when he is inside the pocket and under pressure.

Even though I just told you that his ability to throw from the pocket is not an issue, it does not mean that he is perfect in that regard. Here is the final play from the UCLA game. Daniels is in the gun.

Daniels usually makes good decisions with the football, but I am not sure what he saw here. I think this is an example of Daniels determining where he wants to go with the ball before the play begins. It almost looks like an option route, as receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton slightly changes the angle he is running at when he approaches the first down marker. Bunkley-Shelton goes deep, but he has Jay Shaw over the top and Quentin Lake underneath. Nevertheless, Daniels decides to force it to Bunkley-Shelton. He overthrows his receiver and throws it right to Jay Shaw, who comes away with the interception. Daniels has a ton of potential as a prospect, but in 2021, he must do a better job going through his progressions rather than deciding who he is going to throw it to before the snap.

The next game we will look at is Washington State. Here is the first play.

A major key in a big-armed quarterback’s development is knowing when to check it down and play it safe. On this play, Daniels senses the pressure coming around the edge, moves up in the pocket, and tosses it to running back Eno Benjamin, who is able to gain about 10 yards on the play. Daniels’ ability to adapt on the fly and get rid of the ball one way or the other is something that only a few quarterbacks in the league can do at a high level.

Here is the other play that I would like to look at from that game.

You cannot give Daniels this much space to take off and run. When the two linebackers drop opposite directions in coverage, Daniels has a wide open field in front of him. Once he sees the open space, he immediately takes off. With only a few seconds left in the game, Daniels takes on a defender at the goal line and leaps for the touchdown to take the lead. Daniels’ athleticism is obvious, but his willingness to take a big hit is a testament to his competitiveness and team-first attitude.

The final three plays are against sixth ranked Oregon in 2019. Daniels is in the shotgun once again.

Daniels runs to the right and has all day to throw. As he scans that side of the field, he notices Frank Darby running a stop-and-go route. Cornerback Thomas Graham passes Darby off to safety Jevon Holland, but Darby is able to separate late and torch Holland over the top. Daniels drops a dime, and Darby does the rest.

Here is the next one. Arizona State is up by six in the fourth quarter.

Right once Daniels sees Darby one-on-one, he knows where he wants to go with it. Darby gets the inside track on corner Deommodore Lenoir, and Daniels delivers an absolutely beautiful ball that is right on the money. Darby is able to come away with it despite the grabbing by Lenoir, and Arizona State increases their lead to two scores.

Here is the final play. Oregon has closed the gap, and with only four minutes left in the game, Arizona State could use another score.

In the clip, it is hard to tell if receiver Brandon Aiyuk hesitates in the route or not, but either way, it does not take anything super fancy here. Oregon’s soft coverage gets exposed, as Daniels sees this one all the way. Deep ball accuracy is something that very few dual-threat quarterbacks have. His ability to put excellent touch on deep passes, whether they be in the middle of the field or toward the sideline, is what makes him so lethal as a passer. If he can work out the minor issues in his game, he has the chance to become one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the league.

If highlights are more your thing, you can check out Daniels’ best plays from 2019 here and his best plays from 2020 here.

NFL Comparison: Deshaun Watson

Coming out of college, Watson was about 6’3”, 215 pounds. Daniels is about the same height, but much thinner. Daniels has experience playing under center, but both he and Watson seem much more comfortable in the shotgun. Watson’s arm strength and athleticism were at about the same level coming out of college as Daniels’ arm stength and athleticism are now. The two quarterbacks are also similar in that they have not always had the best footwork. Watson’s has improved through time, and I expect that to be the case for Daniels as well. This is a lofty comparison in terms of on-field talent, but I truly think he has a similar ceiling to Watson, who was considered one of the best young quarterbacks in the league before the recent issues off the field.

How would he fit with the Steelers?

As you can see from the clips above, Daniels prefers playing in the shotgun, but I can tell you that after watching multiple games of his, he does occasionally take snaps under center. Much like we talked about with Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder, his dual-threat ability would allow Matt Canada to expand the playbook, and his ability to deliver an accurate deep ball would be great news for a receiver like Chase Claypool, who is currently the best deep threat the Steelers have on the roster. This season, I really want to see Daniels do a better job getting off his first read. It is not a rare problem for a college quarterback, but the quicker he can learn to go through his progressions rather than forcing it to his primary receiver, the quicker he can become a starter in the NFL.

Current 2022 NFL Draft Quarterback Rankings

1. Spencer Rattler — Oklahoma
2. Sam Howell — North Carolina
3. Malik Willis — Liberty
4. Jayden Daniels — Arizona State
5. Desmond Ridder — Cincinnati
6. J.T. Daniels — Georgia
7. Carson Strong — Nevada
8. Kedon Slovis — USC
9. D’Eriq King — Miami
10. Grayson McCall — Coastal Carolina

This marks the end of our quarterback breakdowns. The players we have broken down are not the only legitimate quarterback prospects, as J.T. Daniels, Grayson McCall, D’Eriq King, Tyler Shough, and others also have a chance to get into the first round conversation. However, I would like to hit a few other positions before the summer is over. Next time, we will begin breaking down some of the top cornerbacks in next year’s draft. Until then, be lighting up the comment section below with your thoughts on Daniels, the 2022 quarterback class as a whole, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!