Why the Commanders were 'unanimous' on picking Jayden Daniels at No. 2


ASHBURN, Va. — With the Chicago Bears on the clock holding the first pick in the 2024 NFL draft, Washington Commanders general manager Adam Peters gathered scouts, coaches, executives and other Commanders personnel in the team’s makeshift war room to make the announcement many had long anticipated.

Many in the organization had expected they would select LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels. But nobody knew for certain. And now, after telling members of the ownership group separately earlier in the day, Peters made it official.

He told them, according to one person in the room, they are getting a “young man who loves football” that would help them “change this franchise forever.”

Then, according to the source, Peters finally said: “We’re going with Jayden.”

The room erupted with cheers, clapping and high fives.

“It was like a room of joy,” said a person who was there. “It put everybody at ease.”

The announcement ended months of speculation from those outside of Peters’ inner circle about who Washington, with the No. 2 pick, would tap to front a new era of Commanders football. Though many internal signs pointed to Daniels, there was still wonder before Peters, leading his first draft as a general manager, informed the room of his pick.

He liked Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy more than presumed second choice Drake Maye, the North Carolina star, according to multiple sources. But Daniels — due in part to his experience, polish, resilience and game-changing ability — became the organization’s top pick early in their evaluations and never lost ground as Peters & Co. finished out the process.

While every No. 2 pick is of huge importance, this pick could alter the trajectory of a franchise trying to establish a new identity under new owner Josh Harris — who purchased the team last summer — new coach Dan Quinn and first-time GM Peters. Washington is attempting to get beyond more than two decades of futility under previous owner Dan Snyder, and solving its decades-long quarterback quest with a long-term answer at the position would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal. Washington has started 33 quarterbacks since last winning the Super Bowl after the 1991 season; the Commanders started eight in the last four years; no quarterback has served as the No. 1 guy for more than three years since Mark Rypien from 1989-93.

They needed to make sure they had the right guy. In the end, their process led them back to where they began: Daniels.

“We knew it was Jayden for a while,” Peters said. “It would have taken a lot for it to not be Jayden. The whole building I would say was unanimous on that one. It’s easy to see why.”


ALL ALONG, MULTIPLE sources said Daniels was the guy with whom they were smitten. Someone needed to knock him off the mountaintop; no one did.

Before joining the Commanders in January, Peters spent the 2023 regular season as the assistant general manager for the San Francisco 49ers — a team that was not looking to draft a quarterback in the first round — and had not begun studying film of the 2024 QB class.

According to multiple sources in Washington, Peters was also high on McCarthy. Others in the building were, too. The 2023 national champion was efficient; had a strong arm, moved well, and had a personality Washington decision-makers loved.

Many in the NFL said McCarthy had untapped potential because of Michigan’s run-heavy offensive approach, but many in the organization thought he needed more experience. Washington also heavily scouted Maye as well as Michael Penix Jr. All four quarterbacks visited Washington before the draft. In the end, McCarthy was second on its list of options.

It did not take long to develop a strong opinion of Daniels once team officials started watching his film after the season. In fact, one source said, the game that set Washington on the Daniels’ path was LSU’s season-opening 45-24 loss to Florida State. Daniels threw for 346 yards and ran for 64 more, but one Commanders source said, in addition to his polish and arm talent, they liked how he responded after suffering multiple big hits in the game.

There were questions about Daniels, however: Though he measured 6-foot-3 5/8 and weighed 210 pounds at his pro day, some wondered about the big hits he took in games, owing in part to his running ability. Would he protect himself well enough to last in the NFL? His high pressure-to-sack rate was also viewed as a concern in the analytics community. He was sacked 24.5% of the time when pressured in his five years. At LSU, he went from 30.8 his first season (2022) to 20.2 last year. His career number was higher than the other prospects in the first round. Also, Daniels attempted just 68 passes between the hashes, the 55th most in the NCAA last year.

Most evaluators in the NFL pegged USC’s 2022 Heisman winner Caleb Williams as the best quarterback because of his dynamic ability and excellence on off-schedule plays. He was considered the obvious choice for Chicago at No. 1.

Peters, meanwhile, said he could not believe how good Daniels was when he finally watched the tape.

“The way he can process, the way he can see the field, the way he goes through his reads, the way he delivers [the ball] on time. He’s the best deep ball thrower in the draft,” Peters said, “and that’s even before we start watching him run and the way he runs he just takes your soul as a defense. You think you got him and then all of a sudden, he rips off a 40-yard run. And this is against the SEC, the best of the best.”

Peters said Washington never considered trading back in the draft, though he later told Big 100 Radio in Washington that they only received one offer and “it didn’t move the needle.” But even though all signs pointed to drafting Daniels, Peters was determined to finish the evaluation process — just in case.

At the scouting combine in February, Peters told an assembled group that included offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, Harris, front office consultant Bob Myers and Quinn that “something has to happen to not be Jayden.”

During the team’s 15-minute interview session with Daniels at the combine, those in the room said the laid-back Daniels was not oozing excitement.

Until they turned on the game film.

“He sat up in his chair and he was dialed in,” one person in the room said. “He knows his stuff. It was his body language. He perked up.”

Another person said, “You could see Jayden just lights up when the tape comes on. You can’t fake that. He just goes, ‘Yeah let’s talk football.’ It was authentic.”

After drafting Daniels last Thursday, Peters referenced other selling points that led Washington to the decision, including his use of virtual reality, which Daniels claims helped him improve by “70 to 80%” for his final year.

At the combine, Quinn revealed his desire for Daniels — perhaps unintentionally — one team source said. While playing a word association game during an appearance on D.C.-based 106.7 The Fan, Quinn referred to Daniels as a “game changer”. No other quarterback, including Williams, received such praise.


DANIELS HAD ADVOCATES outside of Washington as well. Former Arizona State coach Herm Edwards, who recruited Daniels and coached him for three years, told Peters that Daniels “was a man; don’t let his youth fool you.” One source said San Francisco receiver Brandon Aiyuk, a close friend of Daniels’, sang his pal’s praises to Peters. And San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan, with whom Peters worked for seven years, also gave Daniels a glowing review.

From that Florida State film on, nothing changed Washington’s opinion of Daniels. The Commanders spoke to people from Arizona State, where Daniels played three years, and LSU. One source checked out his high school transcripts. They asked about his character.

Peters also liked that Daniels had the pass code changed at an LSU facility so he could enter after hours for more work. He also organized 5 a.m. workouts with his receivers; Washington’s officials were impressed that he could cajole his teammates to attend at that hour. That, one source said, resonated as much as anything with Peters.

The boxes kept getting checked in Daniels’ favor.

But the interest still went back to his on-field exploits. Like Peters, Quinn said Washington liked the level of competition Daniels played in the SEC, and the sophistication of the defenses he faced.

“They had looks and different things that Jayden has been able to really process things quickly,” Quinn, a former defensive coordinator, said. “He has a real decision-making process that’s fast.”

Quinn also liked his experience. Daniels played in 55 games over five seasons and started 26 more games than McCarthy and 29 more than Maye.

“That’s a big deal man because they’ve seen the s— , they’ve made the mistake,” Quinn said. “You don’t want to take somebody that doesn’t have a lot of snaps.”

They viewed his transfer to LSU as a positive.

“You could make a case and say he’s already had to go through a new system and new people and new experiences,” Quinn said.

Daniels felt the Commanders’ love and, after his top-30 visit ended on April 17, Butler said Daniels excitedly told him, “I’m Quinn’s guy.”


DURING HIS PRIVATE plane ride home after his news conference in Washington, Daniels, surrounded by family and friends, spent an hour of the trip pretending to stand at the line of scrimmage, calling out checks or plays that he already knew from the Commanders’ playbook.

At his introductory news conference, Daniels said he felt “no pressure” to change Washington’s decades-long history of struggles at quarterback, but he knows the expectations. Daniels said he does not take the responsibility of leading a struggling franchise back to prominence for granted, nor that he will open the season as the starter, though he believes he was brought to Washington “for a reason.”

Daniels’ experience and ability gives him a chance to start immediately, multiple sources said before the draft.

“When that time comes, when he’s ready, then that’s when we’ll do it. But there’s no timeline on that,” Quinn said.

If Daniels does not start right away, Washington would go with Marcus Mariota. However, both Quinn and Peters have said this offseason they want to rely on a strong defense and run game to reduce the burden on a rookie quarterback. They also added veteran offensive players, including tight end Zach Ertz and running back Austin Ekeler, to lessen the need for Daniels to be the leader of the unit right away.

Numerous coaches in the NFL believe Kingsbury’s offense will be good for him. The former Arizona Cardinals coach has experience with quarterbacks who can run. Kingsbury likes to use run-pass options and he wants to attack down the field. Daniels said he liked what Kingsbury had to say during their meetings, but he has also watched his offense over the years.

“Just the creative mind that he has on the offensive side,” Daniels said of Kingsbury. “How he can attack defenses. Obviously, what he was doing over Arizona, you know, with [quarterback] Kyler [Murray] and having success. I want to go out there and I want to be successful, but it comes with putting the work in each and every day.”

“He wasn’t handed anything,” Peters said. “He’s earned everything he’s got.”

That included being the No. 2 pick in the draft. And on that plane ride home, he got back to work. The Commanders, meanwhile, are pleased with their good fortune, knowing what it could mean for the franchise.

“We couldn’t be happier,” Peters said.



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top