IOWA CITY, Iowa — The NFL scouting world was prepared for Iowa junior cornerback Josh Jackson to declare for April’s draft after one of the most dynamic seasons by a defensive back in recent memory.
As for center James Daniels, who also decided to forgo his senior year for the draft, that was a bit of surprise. That sent hard-core NFL scouts like Dan Shonka, general manager of Ourlads Scouting Services, scrambling through video to put together a good breakdown of the athletic offensive lineman.
“He was one of those late declares,” Shonka said. “I had no idea he was going to come out.”
Shonka and the rest of the national scouts are quite aware of Daniels and Jackson as the NFL combine approaches in about 10 days. Daniels, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 295 pounds, is considered the draft’s most athletic interior lineman and a borderline first-round pick. If Daniels is picked on the first night, he’ll be the fifth first-round offensive lineman under Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
“Because of [Daniels’] zone blocking ability, his size and his athletic ability, [Ohio State center Billy] Price might be the only center going ahead of him,” said Shonka, who projected Daniels as a late second-rounder. “Some people think he can play guard.
“I see him more as a second-round guy.”
Three NFL draft analysts — ESPN’s Todd McShay, and NFL Network’s Charley Casserly and Daniel Jeremiah — slot Daniels in the first round. Other rankings have him at or near the top of the list for centers and interior linemen.
Jackson, who posted national highs in interceptions (8) and passes defensed (26), is a virtual lock to join Tom Knight (1997) and Craig Clemons (1972) as Iowa’s first-round defensive backs.
Nearly every national mock draft — except NFL Network’s Chad Reuter — has Jackson as a first-rounder. Shonka said Jackson’s speed will determine where he will go.
“Being a one-year starter, to me that’s concerning,” Shonka said. “Obviously, he had some pretty good players ahead of him [Desmond King, Greg Mabin], but you’re talking about a first-round guy.
“How fast is he going to run? It’s probably going to determine where he gets drafted. If he runs really fast, if he runs in the 4.4s, I could see him being in the bottom third of the first round because of his ball skills and he’s got that length that all of the NFL defensive back coaches like. But he’s not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination. I think in certain schemes, he needs work, in certain coverages. What he played at Iowa, he was very good.”
Daniels and Jackson are two of five former Hawkeyes who will head to the combine. Also attending are running back Akrum Wadley, linebacker Josey Jewell and guard Sean Welsh.