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Iowa offensive lineman Keegan Render (right) celebrates a touchdown run by LeShun Daniels.

If Iowa’s James Daniels leaves for NFL, competition at center will be fierce

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ANSWER: If Iowa junior James Daniels declares for the NFL draft, the Hawkeyes will have a fierce competition at center this spring and next August. Daniels, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, has started 23 games at center the last two seasons for Iowa. Many draft analysts have placed a high grade on Daniels, including ESPN’s Todd McShay, who lists Daniels as the 35th-best prospect and No. 2 center. Based on 2017 financial numbers, an early second-round pick would make around $10 million in salary and bonuses, according to Sportrac.com.

Replacing Daniels would be no small feat, however. Daniels missed the season opener this year with an injury and guard Keegan Render slid over to replace him. Throughout the season, freshmen Cole Banwart and Spencer Williams rotated as the No. 2 center on the depth chart. In bowl preparations, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz shifted freshman defensive lineman Levi Duwa to center but that experiment is not permanent. It’s possible an incoming freshman offensive or defensive lineman or even a current lineman like Ross Reynolds or Levi Paulsen could move there as well.

Based on the current personnel and the depth chart, I’d guess Render will get the first look. He’s a senior with two seasons of starting experience at guard, and he’s already has one start at center in his career. Ferentz values center as a premium position along the offensive line because of the calls and checks at the line of scrimmage. Banwart or Williams also could figure into this situation, too.

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