Seven interior offensive linemen were already off the board by the time the Chicago Bears were on the clock with the 39th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. And while Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson was viewed to be the best of the bunch, this deep group figured to have others who were capable of having solid careers.
The Bears are banking on James Daniels to be one of them.
Chicago drafted Daniels with their first second-round pick on Friday, and it felt like a steal. Daniels played in a pro style offense during his three-year career with the Iowa Hawkeyes and was believed to be the draft’s best center prospect by some observers. In fact, some draft analysts initially believed the Bears’ selection of Daniels was going to kick Cody Whitehair out to left guard. Not so fast, my friend.
“Our plan right now is to start (Daniels) off as guard as his first position and cross train him at center,” said GM Ryan Pace while breaking down his Day 2 picks. “Things that stand out with this player are his quickness, leverage, balance, excellent technique in pass protection. A guy our scouts and coaches all valued highly, obviously. We’re all on the same page on this one, and we’re excited to ask him.”
Pace said he values Daniels’ position flexibility, which could ultimately prove to be valuable in the grand scheme of things – especially after watching a season in which injuries forced the Bears’ line to play musical chairs often last season.
By putting Daniels at guard, the Bears are trying to make the left side of the line a strength.
We often think about strength on the left side of the offensive line through the lens of protecting a quarterback’s blindside. But we should also note how important it can be for running back Jordan Howard, who rushed for 455 yards and six touchdowns when running left. That’s an impressive 4.7 yards per carry for those of you want are keeping score at home.
If the trio of Daniels, Cody Whitehair, and Charles Leno Jr. can clear space for the running game and keep quarterback Mitch Trubisky off his back, the pass-catching weapons the Bears added in the offseason will have ample opportunities to make plays in Matt Nagy’s offense.
Pace’s draft day declaration keeps Whitehair at his best position, creates an opportunity for the center to further familiarize himself with his quarterback, and offers up the possibility of a young trio to grow into the offense. Daniels, Whitehair, and Leno Jr. will be just 21, 26, and 27, respectively this season. Each player is young, full of upside, and could help create big things for an offense by winning at the line of scrimmage.