2024 NFL Draft: Why Jayden Daniels is a Tricky Evaluation

Jayden Daniels had a historically good season in 2023, becoming the best quarterback in college football and one of the top prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft. However, his evaluation is trickier than you realize.
Texas A&M v LSU
Texas A&M v LSU / Jonathan Bachman/GettyImages

If you asked someone a year ago where LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels would be drafted, they would probably answer somewhere around day three in the later rounds. That wouldn’t have been a crazy response. Until this past season, Daniels hadn’t become a high-level passer, and his production never reached a level that we expect to see from top quarterback prospects.

Then came the 2023 college football season, where all of a sudden, Daniels looked like a superstar. As a fifth-year senior, he became the best quarterback in college football, put up Earth-shattering numbers, and won the Heisman trophy. He also took huge strides as a passer, leading to him rising up draft boards and becoming a likely top-five pick.

Although his 2023 season was historically dominant, his evaluation is extremely difficult. Let’s dive in and see why his final season in college was so special and why there are reasons to believe he may not be a star at the next level.

Jayden Daniels was a machine in 2023

Jayden Daniels’ numbers in 2023 were unfathomably good. They’re so astounding that you have to use a thesaurus to describe how great they are.

In his second season at LSU, Daniels completed 71.1% of his passes and threw for 3,811 yards, 40 touchdowns, and just four interceptions. He also ran for 1,250 yards and 10 touchdowns. He did all of this while leading the best offense in the country. Few players in college football did more within their offense than he did.

Daniels’ counting stats were off the charts but so were his advanced numbers. He led college football in QBR and total EPA with marks of 95.7 and 132.3 respectively. Bo Nix was the only other power-five quarterback with at least 100 total EPA, and he didn’t come remotely close to matching Daniels in this metric. No matter what numbers you look at, Jayden Daniels was pretty clearly the best-performing player in the nation last season.

There are a few reasons why he became such a productive player in 2023. For starters, he improved a lot as a deep-ball thrower. His big-time throw rate was 8.4%, the best mark of his entire career, and he had a ridiculous 99.2 PFF passing grade on throws 20+ yards down the field.

He also got a lot better at avoiding sacks. In 2022, he had a pressure-to-sack rate of 30.8%, meaning he took a sack on 30.8% of his pressured dropbacks. That is catastrophic. Few players who take sacks at this rate will ever work out in the NFL. Thankfully, he improved a lot in this area, lowering his pressure-to-sack rate to 20.2% in 2023. That mark is still high, but his struggles in this area might be manageable if he keeps generating big plays at the rate like he did this past season.

One last area where he shined was his performance under pressure. In 2023, he faced pressure on 25.5% of his dropbacks and in these situations, he had a PFF grade of 82.2 and a passer rating of 123.5. While he didn’t face a ton of pressure, he was really effective when he did, and this is extremely important for quarterback prospects.

Overall, Jayden Daniels was amazing in 2023. He was extremely accurate despite attempting a lot of deep throws, he was an amazing deep ball thrower, he shined under pressure, and he was a game-breaking runner. His film and production show that he improved a lot, especially as a passer. This is why he has received a ton of hype as a prospect.

However, he isn’t perfect. In fact, there are some serious issues with his profile that make his evaluation extremely difficult.

Jayden Daniels has a few major flaws

The biggest reason why Jayden Daniels is a hard prospect to evaluate is because his development path is extremely unique.

As I mentioned earlier, Daniels was not a high-level prospect before 2023. He spent his first three seasons in college at Arizona State and he was not a very good passer as a Sun Devil. His accuracy was up and down and he struggled to limit sacks while under pressure. 

His best season by PFF grade during his first three collegiate seasons was in 2021, when he had a PFF grade of 83.2. PFF grades are not perfect by any means, but they do have some predictive power when it comes to NFL draft prospects. When your best PFF grade in your first three seasons in college is this low, that’s a concern.

Of course, Daniels improved a lot when he transferred to LSU prior to the 2022 season. In his first season with the Tigers, his efficiency as a passer improved drastically and his PFF grades were very good in his two seasons playing in the SEC. However, his career PFF grade was 82.7, which is very low for a 23-year-old prospect.

I find it difficult to weigh Daniels’ growth as a passer in 2023 vs. his early career struggles at Arizona State. Obviously, he was great this past season, but we can’t ignore the first three seasons of his college career, which make up around 50% of his total plays. Maybe his past two seasons are more indicative of the player he is now, but his slow development up to this point matters more than people realize.

This isn’t the only issue with Daniels’ profile, his tendency to take sacks while under pressure has consistently been a major issue throughout his college career. He never had a pressure-to-sack rate of less than 20% in a single season and his career pressure-to-sack rate was 24%. That is extremely concerning because it’s hard for a quarterback to lead an efficient offense in the NFL if they are a sack machine.

Another potential problem with Daniels is his effectiveness in throwing at the middle of the field. This past season, 10.5% of his pass attempts were in between the numbers from 10-19 yards down the field. On these throws, he had a PFF passing grade of 87.9 and he had 0 big-time throws compared to three turnover-worthy plays. On all intermediate throws, he had a PFF passing grade of 89.4 and just two big-time throws compared to four turnover-worthy plays.

His production on intermediate throws in his best season was just a little bit underwhelming. It wasn’t bad per se, but other quarterback prospects in this class like Drake Maye and Caleb Williams were better in this area during their best seasons and they are both younger than Daniels.

This is something to watch because it is very important for NFL quarterbacks to be able to make intermediate throws, especially throws in the middle of the field. These throws are difficult, but they lead to YAC opportunities which makes offenses more efficient.

Jayden Daniels is a fascinating quarterback prospect

Jayden Daniels is one of the hardest quarterback prospects to evaluate in the 2024 NFL Draft. His development as a passer over the last two seasons was great to see and his performance this past season showed that he can be a good quarterback in the NFL.

However, there are issues with his profile. He is an older prospect who struggled early in his college career and didn’t become an elite college player until he turned 23 years old. He also has a lot of room to grow when it comes to avoiding sacks and making throws to the intermediate parts of the field.

Still, we saw him play at an extremely high level this past season, which gives us hope that he could be a great player in the future. If Daniels continues to improve, he could have a pretty high ceiling in the NFL. However, there’s also a chance he underperforms his draft stock and doesn’t look like he did during the 2023 college football season.

This isn’t to say he shouldn’t be a top pick in this year’s draft, but there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Every prospect has a range of outcomes and Jayden Daniels’ range is probably wider than people realize. Hopefully, this version of Daniels is who he is long-term and not just a flash in the pan.