Jayden Daniels realizes draft dream after No. 2 overall selection by Washington Commanders

Jayden Daniels | Photo by: Gus Stark

In the 24 hours after Jayden Daniels heard his name called and he walked on stage in Detroit when the Washington Commanders selected him with the No. 2 overall draft pick, the reality of his childhood dream is setting in more and more.

Daniels thought back to waking up on Friday and texting former LSU wide receiver teammates Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr., who were chosen No. 6 overall by the New York Giants and 23 overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively. He said it “kind of” set in the night of Round 1 kick-starting the 2024 NFL Draft last Thursday.

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“I was just sitting, laying in bed, and I was texting with Malik and Brian, man, and we were just like, ‘You know, we woke up as pros officially,’” Daniels said. “We’re all on our teams and we’re able to live out our childhood dreams. So it still hasn’t hit me yet but it’s starting to get there.”

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Daniels grew up in San Bernardino, California, where he helped lead Cajon High School on multiple deep postseason runs, breaking both school and state records, on the way to becoming a four-star recruit as part of the class of 2019.

He began his college career at Arizona State under head coach Herm Edwards, then transferred before the 2022 season to play for Brian Kelly and LSU. Daniels led the Tigers to a 10-4 record and Citrus Bowl victory his first year before winning the Heisman Trophy after throwing for 3,812 yards and 40 touchdowns to four interceptions as well as a 10-3 record.

Getting to the NFL was a dream Daniels said he’d had since he was a kid. In fact, he knew he wanted to get there when he was 7 years old.

“I got a blank piece of paper, wrote, ‘I’ll play in the NFL,’ and put it above my door so I’ve seen it every morning,” Daniels said. “The workouts with my dad, you know, when I didn’t want to work out, when I started doubting myself when I was younger, like, ‘Can I really do this, man?’ All the perseverance, I’ve been through the adversity in my life, led me to this point now.”

Daniels credited “the stability I was able to have at LSU” under Kelly and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Sloan and others as a reason for his improvement from his first season as Tigers starting quarterback to his second — which ultimately would be the one he won college football’s top award.

“Same coaching staffs, same coordinators, and you know, it’s just the camaraderie and the trust that me and my guys built this past offseason and being able to find ways to take my game to another level,” Daniels said. “I didn’t want to come back to college to do the same thing I did the year before, so I wanted to take my game to another level. And you know, shout out to LSU and the support staff that helped me out whether that’s the Oculus VR stuff that I was doing or even after practice, the equipment people, the equipment assistants, the students catching footballs for me while when I’m the last one on the field, so I appreciate all of them.”

Daniels is the only player in Football Bowl Subdivision history to pass for 12,000 yards and run for 3,000.

In Week 11 last season, Daniels became the first player in FBS history to throw for 350 yards and 200 yards in the same game when he did it in a 52-35 win over Florida. He said that game “catapulted me back to win the Heisman Trophy.”

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Daniels will now move on to professional football in Washington D.C., where he’ll be coached under a new regime led by Dan Quinn, who has coaching ties to both the NFL and college including a two-year stint at Florida as defensive coordinator from 2011-12.

There have been 12 quarterbacks to start at least one game for the Commanders since they moved on from Kirk Cousins following the 2017 season. Daniels aims to be the one to stick around and lead Washington into the future.

“God put me in this place for a reason,” Daniels said. “My life is already written out. He got a plan. I’m just following it. But that comes with the work at the end of the day. Nothing is given to me. It’s not a given I’m a starter Week 1. I got to go out, I got to earn it. I got to put in the work. I got to learn the playbook, earn the respect of my teammates and go out there and try to win football games.”