By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – In late November, I asked Iowa center James Daniels whether he would consider skipping his senior season to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.
He didn’t dismiss the question or give any indication that it was weighing heavily on his mind.
The NFL Draft was a hot topic that day as reporters tried to get a read on what junior cornerback Josh Jackson was thinking in that regard.
In fact, Jackson stood about 10 feet from Daniels as they both were being interviewed that day.
Daniels answered my question about the draft by saying it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a center to leave school early because there isn’t a high demand for the position. He then mentioned the lack of centers that were taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, and that none were selected in the first two rounds, to prove his point.
Only five centers were taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, with Ohio State’s Pat Elflein going in the third round to the Minnesota Vikings. J.J. Dielman was the next center taken, but he didn’t go until the fifth round.
Elflein reportedly signed a four-year deal worth $3.7 million with a signing bonus of just more than $900,000.
Daniels apparently has given the draft more consideration and has submitted his name to the NFL Draft Advisory Board for review.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz also has fueled speculation by saying a few weeks ago there probably were a couple underclassmen on the team who would soon have to make a decision about leaving early.
Ferentz was obviously referring to Jackson, who is projected as a late first-round pick, and apparently Daniels.
There is also a post on the HawkeyeReport.com message board that says Daniels received a positive review from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, and that a positive review means the board sees Daniels as a first- or second-round pick.
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said Friday on a pre-Pinstripe Bowl teleconference that he hadn’t discussed the situation yet with Daniels or heard the draft advisory board review.
"At some point we'll sit down and address that," said Brian Ferentz, who was Daniels' offensive-line coach for two years. "I know this: James Daniels has done a heck of a job playing for us. He's been a good football player, done the things we've asked him to do. Certainly he's earned the right to consider an NFL career."
Losing Daniels would be a crushing blow to an Iowa offensive line that already has to replace departing seniors Sean Welsh, Ike Boettger and Boone Myers.
Boettger and Myers both have missed most of the current season due to injuries and that has allowed for some of the younger offensive linemen to develop in their absence.
But the 6-foot-4, 295-pound Daniels is expected to be the anchor and the leader of Iowa’s offensive line next season. He missed the season opener this season due to an injury but has since started every game at center. Daniels also started at center in all 11 games that he played in as a sophomore in 2016.
“He’s going to have to make a decision on what’s best for him,” Brian Ferentz said. “But what’s best for our football program is to have him back. We hope to have him back. If he is, I expect him to continue to be a good football player for us.”
Daniels, and those close to him, will have to decide what is best for him at this stage.
It would be hard to turn down first or second-round money if Daniels could be assured that is where he would be taken in the draft.
He didn’t seem to think he had a chance to be selected that high when we spoke in late November. But that was probably before Daniels had submitted his name to draft advisory board.
Daniels is a smart kid who skipped his final semester of high school in order to enroll at Iowa early. So it’s reasonable to think that he is well on his way to graduating.
Unlike Jackson’s situation, which looks more and more like he won’t return for his senior season, Daniels is harder to predict.
Daniels has performed well at times this season, but he only made honorable mention All-Big Ten after being a third-team pick as a sophomore.
Daniels would be Iowa’s marquee offensive lineman if he returned next season and a candidate for some of the top individual awards.
My hunch is that Daniels will return for his senior season because there is no way to guarantee being a first- or second-round selection.
The Ohio native also seems to like the college experience and has interests beyond just football. And he’s only 20 years old.
And if he is thought of so highly now after just okay junior season, imagine what a strong senior season would do for Daniels’ stock.
But I also wouldn't be surprised if Daniels left early for the NFL because money, especially lots of it, is a powerful influence.