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Welcome to Washington! Commanders select Heisman Trophy-winning LSU QB Jayden Daniels

NFL Draft Football
Posted at 11:24 AM, Apr 26, 2024

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) — Jayden Daniels was not sure the Washington Commanders would call his name, after months of questions about which quarterback they wanted. He's glad they did.

Washington selected Daniels with the second pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night, choosing the Heisman Trophy winner out of LSU over North Carolina’s Drake Maye, Washington's Michael Penix Jr. and Michigan national champion J.J. McCarthy. Unlike Chicago leading off with Caleb Williams as expected, the Commanders kept everyone, including the AP’s college football player of the year, in suspense until the last moment.

“They did a pretty good job of not showing their hand too much,” Daniels said. “But I was pretty confident based off the conversations that we had that I was able to come here and fit into the Commanders team. I’m here now. I can’t wait to get to work.”

NFL Draft Football
LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen by the Washington Commanders with the second overall pick during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Detroit.

Daniels had for quite some time been the favorite to go to the Commanders, though buzz over the past week put that in doubt after reports surfaced that he and his agent were not happy with the team hosting four QB prospects at once.

Daniels, May, McCarthy, and Penix all visited the practice facility and area together, including a group trip to Topgolf, something general manager Adam Peters called overwhelmingly positive.

Peters said Daniels was the choice for a while: unanimous within the front office to the point the Commanders were ready to run the draft card up when they were on the clock. There was no concern about Daniels refusing to play for Washington.

“He never expressed that to us and really expressed that he was really happy to be where he went,” Peters said.

Daniels becomes the centerpiece of the Commanders’ rebuilding process and roster overhaul under Peters and an ownership group led by Josh Harris that has been in charge since August.

"Selecting a winner like Jayden Daniels will energize the players and our fan base!" co-owner Magic Johnson posted on social media.

Short of Williams, a Washington-area native who would have been a no-brainer if the Bears passed on him for some reason, Daniels became the pick after leading the nation in total offense last season with 4,946 yards — 412.2 on average over 12 games. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound QB ranked fifth with 3,812 yards passing and with 40 touchdowns trailed just Oregon’s Bo Nix, who played in two extra games. He also ran for 10 more.

“To us, he’s special in every way,” Peters said. “When you really study him as a quarterback, just as a quarterback, he’s really, really good. ... He’s the best deep-ball thrower, we thought, in the draft. (And) the way he runs, he kind of takes your soul as a defense.”

Daniels, 23, blossomed into a star over two seasons at LSU after transferring in 2022 following three years at Arizona State. He became an increasingly decisive pocket passer as his trust in receivers Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr. grew, and he became more adept at buying time by scrambling rather than giving up on plays and taking off running.

Nabers went three picks later to the NFC East-rival New York Giants at No. 5, then Jacksonville picked Thomas at No. 23.

It’s unclear if Daniels will play right away, get the chance to compete for the starting job or sit and learn behind veteran Marcus Mariota, who is willing to be a mentor after signing a one-year deal in free agency. Whether it’s Daniels, Mariota or journeyman Jeff Driskel, Washington will have an eighth different Week 1 starting QB in as many seasons after trading Sam Howell to Seattle last month.

“I’m just coming in to compete," Daniels said. “I’m going to come in and really just trying to play my role, whatever that is. I just want to be the best teammate to help the team win."

Drafted second by Washington 12 years after the organization took Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III out of Baylor in the same spot, the San Bernardino, California, native becomes the face of the Commanders under coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury.

Daniels cited Kingsbury's work with Kyler Murray while coaching the Arizona Cardinals as one reason he is excited to play for him.

“The offensive staff, their track record speaks for itself,” Daniels said. “Kliff was over there with Kyler and what he did as a head coach, and for quite some time he had Kyler in the MVP conversation.”

After addressing their most important need with their first selection, the Commanders have eight more in this draft, including five Friday night (Nos. 36 and 40 in the second round, and Nos. 67, 78 and 100 in the third). Some consideration was given to trading back into the first round for a left tackle, but a run on top prospects at the position pushed that pursuit into Friday, with cornerback and receiver also among the areas of focus.

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