In the second installment of our series detailing the 2018 Bears draft picks and how they fit the scheme, we move on to the first of the second-round picks: James Daniels. If you missed the first part on Roquan Smith, you can find that here.
While on the surface, one could easily question Smith’s scheme fit with the Bears, the opposite is true for Daniels. Of all the draft picks that general manager Ryan Pace has made during his tenure with the Bears, this might be the best as far as “fit” is concerned. Historically, Iowa has been a pro-style, power/iso offense. That has changed over the years though as they have implemented more of a zone blocking scheme or ZBS for short.
There are some differences between what Iowa runs and what the Bears ran last year. It will be interesting to see what the running game looks like under the new offensive leadership of head coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. In reviewing the tape of the Kansas City Chiefs 2017 season–especially the last six games, when Nagy called plays–it was apparent that they were running a ZBS but it looked more like an inside-zone, as opposed to the Bears’ outside-zone scheme.
What is the difference between the two? Well, it’s quite simple really. An outside-zone scheme–also known as the “stretch play”–which will be familiar to Bears fans, puts stress on the edges of the defense in order to get the running back on smaller edge defenders or to create gaping cutback lanes. We have seen Jordan Howard run this type of scheme to perfection during his first two seasons in the NFL. Here is an example of what an outside-zone play looks like:
You can see that all of the blockers are flowing in one direction, this is the essence of the ZBS. The outside-zone is designed to give the running back options. This is well-blocked by the interior of Cody Whitehair, Hroniss Grasu, and Kyle Long. Mobility is crucial to make the types of blocks necessary to make these plays successful and Daniels has that in droves.
What differentiates the two styles is that the inside-zone is cross between the outside-zone and the old school power/iso scheme. What this means is that your blockers still flow in a particular direction but there will be the lineman who pull or trap, which are traditional offensive line moves. For an example of this, in the gif below, the right tackle pulls into the void as a lead blocker. This isn’t new, it’s just an old wrinkle in a newer style of offense.
How exactly does Daniels fit into this offense? Well…perfectly! Whether or not the Bears stick to an outside-zone scheme or implement more of an inside-zone attack, Daniels will be a natural fit for this offense. His film shows a solid base in pass protection, as well as the athleticism to get to the edge/second level on outside-zone plays, and the technique to execute pulls, traps, and reach blocks.
Starting with pass protection, here you can see the base, leverage, strength, and balance that Daniels (78) has. He is impressive.
These next two videos are really great examples of how Daniels uses his natural abilities and couples them with some really sound techniques. He can pretty much do everything that will be asked of an interior offensive lineman for the Bears and instantly improves the offense.
Don’t believe me? Well, what about NFL Network’s Mike Mayock:
“Whenever you’re watching Iowa offensive linemen, you know you’re going to get a technique-proficient guy,” Mayock said. “That is what it is with James Daniels. A big, square dude. Coached very well.
“In the case of Daniels, not only is his technique good, but he’s a big kid with physical ability. I think he can play all three interior offensive line positions, but being a center, for me, gives him more value.”
While Daniels played mainly at center in college, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will for the Bears. Pace mentioned both the center and guard positions, but it appears that guard will be the spot to start with:
“That’s how we want to go right now,” Pace said. “Cody was a tackle in college and we felt he had the position versatility to play multiple spots. No different than James Daniels. No different than Eric Kush. Position versatility on our offensive line is important, so they all have that. But yeah, as we go into this right now, Cody’s the center and then James will compete at the guard spot.”
Pace mentioned that Daniels, who will turn 21 during the season, has the strength and frame to play guard at the NFL level:
“He’s thick in the lower body, he’s powerful in the lower body,” Pace said. “Only being 20 years old, we feel like there’s still some growth potential ahead of him as well. He just plays with natural leverage and natural pad level that really helps him, too, and helps with our projection when we’re looking at him going to guard.”
Either spot makes sense to me. It also makes the most sense to keep Whitehair at center for now. It is easier to switch him from center to guard if Daniels is successful than to switch him from guard to center should Daniels falter.
While interior offensive lineman aren’t generally sexy picks, this is a superb football player, that many draftniks had a first-round grade on. He may be battling Kush for a starting spot in May, but come September, he will be manning a spot on a sneaky-good Bears offensive line.
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Featured Photo Credit: USA Today