Why the Washington Commanders drafted Jayden Daniels

Just forget Topgolf and that thinking face emoji seen around the world. Quarterback Jayden Daniels is a Washington commander and about $37 million richer, a reward befitting one of the Washington area’s most demanding jobs.

The Commanders selected the 23-year-old Heisman Trophy winner with the second pick Thursday night and quickly tasked him with turning around a franchise after more than 20 years of disappointment.

“I just came out and competed,” Daniels said. “I come in and I really try to play my role, whatever it is. I just want to be the best teammate to help the team win. And we can bring some wins back to DC, to the DMV, and have fun.

To many, Daniels seemed destined for Washington in the months leading up to the draft. But no outsider knew Washington’s true intention until the selection was announced in Detroit. Managing director Adam Peters, in one of his first exploits, plugged the leaks and ensured that no one forestalled his plans. Even Daniels didn’t know for sure where he was going.

“Honestly, they did a good job without showing off their game too much,” he said. “But from the conversations I had, I was pretty confident, from the conversations we had, that I was able to come here and fit in with the commanders team. I’m here now and I can’t wait to get to work.

Months of closed-door meetings in Ashburn landed Daniels and former Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy at the top of the commander’s list for the No. 2 pick, but in reality, it was never close. Peters admitted after the draft that the team picked Daniels “a while ago” and that it was “almost unanimous” within the building.

“For us, he is special in every way – on the field and off the field,” Peters said. “I spoke to him several times, I told him a little of what I told you the other day. I didn’t really watch a lot of quarterbacks during the season, being with the 49ers, and then I turned on Jayden for the first time here and I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe how good he was.

Daniels completed 72.2 percent of his passes in his final season at LSU and posted the highest passer rating in Football Bowl Subdivision history at 208.0. Commanders executives thought he was the best deep ball thrower in the draft, and his ability to make accurate throws under pressure or taking a hit stood out.

“Just the way he processes, the way he can see the field and make reads, deliver on time, deliver with pressure to the face, take a shot and deliver a third pass and move the chains,” Peters said. “He’s the best deep ball thrower, we thought, in the draft. And that’s before you even start watching him run.

Among quarterbacks, Daniels rushed for an FBS-record 1,134 yards last season, and in his three seasons at Arizona State and two at LSU, Daniels became the only player in FBS history to passing for at least 12,000 yards and rushing for at least 3,000.

But these numbers didn’t just represent speed.

It’s “sharp,” Peters said.

“He just takes your soul as a defense,” Peters added. “You think you got him and all of a sudden he snatches a 40-yard run.”

Daniels will trying to use both sides of his game to end Washington’s carousel at the position. Over the past 10 seasons, the Commanders have started 14 quarters and finished above .500 twice.

In seeking a solution, first-year coach Dan Quinn narrowed down the qualifications he coveted in the team’s next quarterback, including accuracy (especially on deep passes) and mobility. Above all, Quinn wanted a player with an elite mental processor.

How quickly can he make the right decision? Can he speed up his treatment in the event of a blitz? Is he able to anticipate blitzes? Can he get out of a broken room?

And is he the kind of quarterback who could wreak havoc for defensive coaches like Quinn, a former defensive coordinator?

“There’s so much information that comes from that position,” Quinn said in March. “In all honesty, most of my time as a (defensive) coach was trying to change the person’s appearance, so they had to deal after they got the ball in their hands.”

Daniels fits that qualification – and many others.

NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah described Daniels as “ready and comfortable in the pocket” and a quarterback who can throw with “anticipation, touch and accuracy” and “manipulate safeties with his eyes to create separation downfield.”

Jeremiah added: “He needs to do a better job of protecting himself though, because he’s taken some huge hits in the games I’ve studied. Overall, Daniels took a big step forward in 2023 and now offers both a high floor and high ceiling.

Daniels will likely need to fill out his lean frame and will have to work to minimize the unnecessary hits he takes in the pocket. But Peters and the commanders clearly focused on his dynamic ability.

“I am so thrilled and excited to welcome Jayden Daniels to the Commanders family! Sponsor Sponsor Magic Johnson written the. “I look forward to all the victories we will celebrate this season and the years to come with you as our leader. I know you will lead our franchise not only as a quarterback, but also in the locker room and in the DMV community! »

Daniels said Peters praised his “background” and work ethic when he called to inform him of Washington’s selection.

Still, much of the week leading up to the draft centered around Daniels’ top-30 visit to the Commanders, which was shared with about 20 other players, including three quarterbacks. His agent, Ronald Butler, posted a “thoughtful face” emoji on social media that seemed to imply he didn’t like the group visit, but Daniels and his publicist immediately tried to dismiss any notion that he was unhappy in Washington.

“Oh, I’m excited,” Daniels assured Thursday evening before checking off the names of several of his future teammates. “I’m excited to come in and get to work. I knew (Washington receiver) Jahan (Dotson) before. We are roughly the same age. Obviously what Terry (McLaurin) did. At the next level, you have a great running back in Brian Robinson, Austin Ekeler. These guys are very explosive players. New additions with Zach Ertz. I’m just happy to come in and learn how to be a pro. I can’t wait to get to work and I can’t wait to meet my new teammates.

The feeling appears to be mutual.

“ELITE pick,” Dotson wrote via text message.

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