After the pro days of Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye, the Commanders could hold the keys to the NFL Draft

By | March 29, 2024

ORLANDO, Fla. – If you want confirmation on where the 2024 NFL Draft is Real starts, just ask New England Patriots head coach Jerod Mayo.

“I think everyone knows what Chicago is going to do at 1 o’clock,” Mayo said Monday during the league’s annual meeting. “But the rest is up in the air.”

Mayo and the Patriots are fairly high in that sky with the third overall pick. But before the Patriots make it to the clock, the Washington Commanders are ahead of them by 2 o’clock. And it’s there, following the Bears’ presumed selection of USC quarterback Caleb Williams, that mystery abounds.

“I don’t think anyone here really knows what Washington is going to do,” Mayo said. “And when you see these other teams making moves, gathering pieces to move, we could sit here today and say to Washington: [then] that could be someone else on draft day.”

So let the speculation rage on, the Vegas odds continue to rise and fall, and the evaluation work draws ever closer for the commanders.

Because with four weeks until the draft kicks off, Washington is — in the exact words of head coach Dan Quinn — “not there yet.” Their decision has not yet been finalized because their work to implement a most informed decision has not yet been completed.

“That’s actually a really nice part of this is making sure we don’t rush it,” Quinn said during Tuesday’s league game in Orlando.

Trust in the process is far from new for sports teams in general and especially for sports teams owned by Josh Harris. But more interesting than simply recognizing that commanders want to trust the process is examining what that process actually looks like.

There were several interested spectators when North Carolina QB Drake Maye performed at UNC's pro day on Thursday, including decision makers from the Washington Commanders.  (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

This week could have introduced a turning point in the direction in which commanders would swing toward one prospect or the other. Because after Quinn and general manager Adam Peters left Orlando, they flew straight to Louisiana on Wednesday for LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels’ pro day. On Thursday in Chapel Hill, they stood right behind UNC quarterback Drake Maye as he unleashed 70 throws.

“The most important thing is the tape,” Quinn said. “But I love going to their school for a pro day or a visit and just spending time with them and asking them questions. How do they learn? How does it look? “Tell me about your system.”

“So it’s mainly the discussions.”

What commanders could have learned on pro days

In Baton Rouge on Wednesday, discussions could have focused on what Daniels told the receivers flanking either side of him during a mid-workout meeting as he pointed back and forth between his script and various spots on the field.

The commanders could have asked Daniels about the way he tried to demonstrate throws both on and off the platform; about the deep route he and receiver Brian Thomas Jr. didn’t connect, and how Daniels ultimately stayed collected enough to rebound from a deep miss on either side of the field to finish both at 52 of 56, according to NFL Network, and to complete his string of deep balls closer to the end of his training fell.

Washington could have asked Daniels what the perfectionist did until midnight at the LSU facility the night before his pro day, and what makes him the best choice for their franchise to select.

“My versatility,” Daniels said in an NFL Network interview after his throwing session. “Explosive plays are the name of the game of football. Defenses try to limit explosive plays and explosive players. So my resume speaks to me about what I do in that category.”

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner completed 72.2% of passes for 3,812 yards and 40 touchdowns to just four interceptions last season. That’s in addition to rushing for 1,134 yards and 10 touchdowns. While his previous four seasons (three at Arizona State, one at LSU) were less productive, Daniels’ 55 college games give evaluators an in-depth sample size of Daniels’ strengths, weaknesses and growth trajectory.

Maye traveled a different route to his pro day. The redshirt sophomore only played two full seasons, playing a total of 31 college games and peaking in the middle of his career rather than the end. Maye’s 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame will soften some teams more than Daniels’ smaller 6-3, 210-pound frame. Maye’s arm talent is also considered closer to prototypical. But he knew the evaluators would be wondering coming into Thursday’s game: How seamless will his transition from shotgun to under center be?

Maye threw 70 balls — short, mid, deep and red zone drills — to demonstrate his mechanics, timing and rhythm while falling five and seven steps under center, he said on ACC Network.

“To show the teams that I’m comfortable under center and that it’s not something new for me,” Maye said. “More just something I’m practicing.”

And he’ll continue to practice, as he did after missing receiver Tez Walker on an intermediate route outside the number and sending Walker back to run the same route again. Maye gave Walker a drag on the second chance, also hitting his own chest a few times as he took responsibility and confirmed to Walker that the fault was the quarterback’s.

‘I’d like to get some of them back, but [it] It was a fun day overall,” Maye said on NFL Network. “Knock on wood, I can throw for days and throw as deep as you want. So that’s the Lord willing to keep my arm healthy, kind of my approach.

“Just throw it and keep going.”

What will determine the decision of the commanders at number 2?

Pro days and internal prospect visits will help commanders contextualize what they saw in that all-important film.

Evaluators like Quinn, who coached the Dallas Cowboys defense during the fall instead of attending college games, can get a new feel and perspective on a quarterback’s frame and moves by watching him live.

Commanders consider hand size, frame durability, shoulder flexibility and rotation. They wonder: Which quarterbacks can withstand the weather FedEx Field brings outside as the season progresses?

Beyond the physical tools, does the quarterback they covet have the instincts and football IQ to mitigate muddy writing and broken safeties?

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels runs through passing drills during LSU's NCAA football pro day in Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday, March 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels runs through passing drills during LSU's NCAA football pro day in Baton Rouge, La., Wednesday, March 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels was impressive at his pro day, just as he was on the field during his Heisman-winning 2023 season. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Quinn considers whether a quarterback made the right decision as well as how quickly he processed and decided. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, who is more familiar with college offensive schemes from more than a dozen years coaching college offenses, provides insight into what the likely “correct” response was on a given play.

“It’s mainly about power from the neck up,” Quinn said. “[The right quarterback] is not specific or cookie-cutter to us. I think that’s probably changed in the last 20 years, right, compared to where we were in the NFL?

Without that cookie-cutter model, the decision becomes more difficult. Williams will likely be off the board before Washington decides. But as they sort through Maye, Daniels and perhaps even Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy, if smoke precedes fire, they’ll have to determine how they weigh arm talent against athleticism; how much a rebuilding franchise leans on experience and instead prioritizes potential.

Daniels and Maye each emphasized this week that they will focus more on the work they have to do at some point with a franchise than where that work will be done.

“The one who summons me [is] just an organization that believes in me and thinks I can lead them to Super Bowls,” Daniels said. “It’s out of my control. So I don’t worry about things like that.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *