IOWA CITY, Iowa — James Daniels aced his test at the NFL combine, wowing NFL front office executives and coaches with his testing numbers and position work.
It was a good enough performance to let the tape speak for itself.
Yet, he didn’t. Or more importantly, he knew he couldn’t.
Iowa’s pro day is a different beast than the combine. To ensure he became a first-round pick, Daniels needed high marks on his next exam.
“At the combine you know the exact drills you are going to do and it’s not a good indicator of how good of an offensive lineman [you are],” Daniels said. “Here the drills are a lot more position-oriented. You are doing more specific drills and so I think that’s probably the biggest difference between the combine and pro day drills.”
There was no difference in the results. Daniels only took part in position drills during pro day Monday and again excelled. It was the latest workout highlighting why he is moving up the rankings the closer it gets to the NFL draft. He is the No. 20 overall selection in the latest mock draft from NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks.
If he is already in such a good draft spot, why did he need to impress NFL teams again? The answer lies in the structure of the workouts.
The combine is a lot like the SAT and the Iowa pro day was a lot like a pop quiz. Everyone knows what is coming at the combine. He can tailor his workouts and prepare for the combine drills.
With pro day, anything is really in play. Teams can request a player to go through a specific drill or action because it’s vital to their scheme or it’s something they want to see if the player can do.
“There was an O-line coach here from the Saints so if he wanted to see a drill at the combine he wouldn’t be able to do it,” Daniels said. “Here he could be like I want to you to do this, this and this.”
On Monday, Daniels did most of his work at guard. He said he only did a few snaps at center because time was limited and there was a lot to go through.
Still, his ability to switch between guard and center for workouts highlights one of his biggest strengths — his versatility.
“James is a hell of a developmental prospect, if you will,” said coach Kirk Ferentz in January. “In my mind he could go and play guard for anybody next year, just about anybody in the league, maybe not anybody. But he’s that kind of player.”
Just like with the combine, one successful workout sets him up for another. He will spend April zig-zagging across the country working for NFL teams. Dallas, Denver, one Los Angeles team, San Francisco, Chicago, Carolina and Philadelphia are bringing in Daniels for a closer look.
“Those are all I can think of,’ Daniels said. “There are probably one or two more.”
A few months ago, Daniels didn’t know the NFL was in his future. Then NFL front office executives started telling Ferentz that Daniels held a late-first through third-round grade. The NFL draft advisory came back with a similar grade.
It forced Daniels to take a week after the bowl game to ponder leaving early. He jumped at the chance, not really sure what was before him.
“It’s been something else,” Daniels said. “Growing up I wanted to play in the NFL. I didn’t know the process was like this. Right now, it’s just been training and taking calls, but my next month, April is just full of visits and workouts and stuff. It’s pretty fun.”
Acing tests usually is.
Now, he is down to his final one kind, the in-person visit. If the last month is any indication, he’ll probably do all right there too.