IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa lost a second top junior to the NFL for the second time this week. Center James Daniels announced his decision to forego his senior season on Friday morning.
“My decision to attend the University of Iowa has been the best decision in my life,” Daniels said on social media. “I have had an incredible college experience with memories I will always cherish. I am grateful for my UI family and the connections that will last a lifetime.
“After praying about this and discussing the options with my family and coaches, I have decided to declare for early entry in the 2018 NFL Draft.”
Junior cornerback Josh Jackson announced his decision to enter the draft early on Wednesday. His choice to forego his senior season seemed more likely than that of Daniels.
Upon closer examination, Daniels’ exit makes sense. He’s dealt with injuries throughout his college career at a very physical position. He’s also put on film some dominating performances against some high-level competition, including Michigan in ’17 and Ohio State this fall.
Daniels (6-4, 295) plays a position that rarely sees players chosen in the first-round of the draft. If the NFL Draft advisory board told him he’d go somewhere in the 2-4 round range, it makes sense to go since another year of college won’t likely change that much, if at all.
Daniels saw action as a true freshman during Iowa’s historic 12-2 ’15 season. In ’16, he started all 11 games for which he was healthy. After missing this fall’s season opener with an injury, he started the final 12 contests at center.
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Iowa faces a tall task of replacing the anchor if its offensive line. In addition to Daniels, it loses all-Big Ten guard Sean Welsh. On top of that, it returns developing sophomore tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs along with some experience at guard in Keegan Render and Ross Reynolds.
Render started at center against Wyoming this season when Daniels was hurt. The 6-foot-4, 310-pound senior-to-be also started at left and right guard in ’17 and offers excellent versatility.
Fellow senior-to-be Lucas LeGrand (6-5, 295) started two games at center in ’16. The Dubuque (IA) Senior High product played in two games this fall, battling through some early-season injury issues.
Sophomores-to-be Cole Banwart (6-4, 280) and Spencer Williams (6-3, 295) occupied the No. 2 center position behind Daniels on this season’s depth charts. Banwart was listed as the backup 10 times and Williams three.
Banwart was seen on crutches during preparations for the Pinstripe Bowl. He remained on them at the Dec. 27 game in New York City.
Offensive line coach Tim Polasek will be looking to sort out his offensive line situation this spring and probably into August camp. He’ll likely try out at least several possibilities at center.
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Jackson was suspended (violation of team policy) for the Pinstripe Bowl but did travel to the game and appeared on track to getting back in the good graces of the coaches in time for spring ball. For the bowl game, Wirfs shifted to left tackle from right tackle, where Levi Paulsen stepped on the right side.
True freshman Mark Kallenberger enjoyed a strong December of practice and worked out as a No. 2 tackle during the Pinstripe Bowl pregame warmups. He could potentially take over a tackle spot with Wirfs or Jackson moving inside.
The offensive line for sure will be a focus of the offseason. Opportunity should breed strong competition at the position.