There are two things that immediately come to mind when watching new Chicago Bears offensive lineman James Daniels.
The first is that he is extremely athletic for a 6-foot-3, 306-pound man. Additionally, he has room to grow because he is only 20 years old.
The second is that he is technically sound and is rarely, if ever, beat by defensive lineman due to faulty technique. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t still have room to grow, but Daniels is coming to the Bears well coached and should be a plug and play starter on the interior line.
Let’s begin with his aforementioned athleticism. In fact, he was athletic enough to be compared to 2017 First-Team All-Pro Jason Kelce by Todd McShay. While that is a lofty comparison, his quickness and agility absolutely pop out on tape.
Ryan Pace mentioned in his press conference that even when Daniels is knocked into a compromising position, he is quick to recover. This ability can be seen two or three times in his 2017 game against Ohio State.
Another play that stood out to me came against Wisconsin who came into the game undefeated. On an inside zone run to his left, Daniels took on the nose tackle but realized he had to come off his block to handle a linebacker who read the play phenomenally.
Not only did he pick up the blitz, but he allowed the right guard enough time to take on the nose tackle as he picked up the linebacker. What likely was going to be a run for no gain or possibly a loss turned into a four-yard gain.
As a pass blocker there were numerous times when Daniels took care of his man to the point where they did not penetrate the pocket at all. As a center, that is pure domination and will offer Mitchell Trubisky plenty of space to step into his throws.
While Daniels is a very good center, he’s not considered a “mauler.” It would be nice to see him finish his blocks with the defender ending up on his back.
This could come by adding strength to his frame which should come in time with an NFL caliber strength program.
There was also a few times where Daniels could have done a better job of picking a lineman looping around on a stunt. He is athletic enough for this not to be an issue and perhaps this is why Pace has him playing guard to start his career.
Daniels could also improve his consistency when it comes to anchoring himself. Though he recovers nicely, he gets pushed back into the pocket by power/bull rushers on occasion giving his quarterback no room to step up and avoid guys flying in off the edge.
Additionally, he could be more active when it comes to helping fellow offensive lineman in pass protection. There are times when Daniels has no one to block in front of him and he fails to double a rusher.
This could be due to miscommunication or a misunderstanding of scheme by him or one of his teammates. Regardless it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.
It should also be noted that there is also a concern with his knees as some injury issues may have caused this first-round talent to slide.
Fit Within Nagy’s Offense
Daniels might be the ideal offensive lineman for new head coach Matt Nagy’s offense. There is no doubt that he has the athleticism to handle the zone running scheme that the Bears will implement.
Envisioning Cody Whitehair, Daniels, and Charles Leno Jr. lead blocking for Tarik Cohen on a screen is another type of play that comes to mind. The athlete that Daniels is will allow him to go out and block a corner or safety on those plays.
Bears fans have often been told to watch Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles games to see the type of offense their favorite team will be running. Both of those teams love to pull lineman, whether it is a center or either guard spot, all of which Daniels can play.
If you have not done so, I strongly encourage watching Daniels’ combine film as it does a very good job of showcasing his ability to pull.
Daniels is going to be a phenomenal fit in Nagy’s offense and it is easy to see him improving under Harry Hiestand, who is considered one of the best offensive line coaches in all of football. Hiestand also advocated for this pick which should only further any excitement for him.
This is a young player who still has a lot of room for growth. As WGN’s Adam Hoge pointed out on Twitter:
— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) April 28, 2018
One last tidbit. Check out the draft video that ESPN posted of Daniels getting the call from the Bears. You’ll see that the raw emotion he displayed was truly awesome. That emotional reaction signified a player who knows how hard he worked to get to the NFL and who realized he was being rewarded for it.
With the ceiling of a Pro Bowl offensive lineman, maybe even more, and the floor of a serviceable starting center (or guard as they plan to place him), Bears fans should be excited about this new athletic anchor up front.