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'This guy is tough': the traits that sold Dan Quinn on Jayden Daniels


Dan Quinn has been in the business of evaluating prospects for 30 years, so he knows a good one when he sees them.

It doesn't take three decades of experience to spot that Jayden Daniels is a rare talent. General manager Adam Peters said the LSU quarterback can take a defense's soul, and whether he was playing with the Tigers or at Arizona State, the Heisman-winning sign-caller did exactly that with more than 16,000 yards of total offense in five seasons.

All that was impressive to Quinn, but it wasn't necessarily what sold him on the prospect of the Washington Commanders taking Daniels with the No. 2 overall pick. Actually, it was everything else about the 23-year-old that put him over the top.

"Over the past two months when I found out what was behind the rib cage ... This guy is tough. He is competitive."

Every player goes through a vetting process for teams to figure out whether there is anything, besides what they can do on the field, that makes them worth a draft pick. Being productive is certainly a critical piece, but teams also want to see if prospects can fit their culture and whether they have certain qualities that they value.

It's an intense series of events for every position, but that is particularly true for quarterbacks, especially for a team like Washington that hasn't had a long-term answer for nearly 30 years. Quinn, general manager Adam Peters and the rest of the Commanders' scouting department did their homework on Daniels, going all the way back to his high school days to figure out if he had the right stuff to be their quarterback of the future.

After months of exhaustive research, Peters said that Daniels was special in every way, both on and off the field. Quinn echoed that sentiment during a scrum with the media after Daniels' introductory press conference.

"I'd say the things that stuck out to me [was] going to LSU and hearing about early meetings with people and all the extras that he wanted to do to become great," Quinn said. "When you're already playing at a really good level, to go to the next spot is not easy."

"A really good level" might be an understatement when it comes to Daniels. He's the first FBS quarterback to throw for at least 12,000 passing yards and rush for at least 3,000 yards, ranking among the top players in the position in big-time throws (29), touchdown passes of at least 20 yards (27) and yards after contact (565).

But Daniels' desire to improve is what made him stand out to the Commanders. He went through an intense offseason program ahead of his senior season, convincing the LSU coaching staff to give him special access to the facility so he could study film. He used virtual-reality simulations, which allowed him to get more practice snaps in the offense and get acclimated to the speed of the game.

There was also a sincere resilience in Daniels that excited Quinn and his staff. Daniels mentioned his game against Florida as an example of what it's like to steal a defense's soul. It was by far his best game, as he had 373 passing yards to go with 234 rushing yards and five total touchdowns.

Obviously, that stood out to Quinn. What impressed him more was how Daniels responded to adversity he had experienced in the days leading up to the game itself.

"He'd gotten banged up in the game prior to that," Quinn said. "And so not to have a full week of practice and to kind of go out and put on that type of performance, I think those were the two things that jumped out to me; the dedication and the resilience."

Take a look from the war room to the draft stage in Detroit and the touch down in Ashburn as the Washington Commanders take Jayden Daniels with the No. 2 overall pick. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)

While the Commanders remained tight-lipped about what they were going to do with the No. 2 overall pick leading up to the draft, more and more analysts began mocking Daniels to them. As a result, Daniels was peppered with questions about the team, including whether he even wanted to be drafted by the Commanders after their decision to bring in four of the top quarterbacks along with two dozen other prospects to the facility at the same time and take them to Top Golf.

Daniels took the questions in stride, saying that he would be blessed to be drafted by any team and brushed aside any speculation of him having a preferred team. All of Daniels' coaches from high school and college spoke highly of his maturity, and Quinn said "it was very cool to see it come to life."

"I think you guys got a taste of that," Quinn said to the media. "This is a mature guy. He's had a lot of starts, he's been through the fires and there's something that you can gain from that."

Take a look at the moment the Washington Commanders informed Jayden Daniels that he would be their No. 2 overall pick. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)

What Daniels dealt with ahead of the draft will be a precursor to the attention he'll receive as the Commanders' starting quarterback. He hasn't received that title yet, but given how quickly quarterbacks are expected to produce in the NFL, it's reasonable to expect that he'll be named the starter sooner rather than later.

The good news is that Daniels won't be expected to step up as the leader of the roster as a rookie. The team signed veterans like Zach Ertz and Bobby Wagner in free agency, giving them experienced leadership on both sides of the ball.

It's not that the Commanders think Daniels can't handle that, but it does prevent him or anyone else from having "to put on the cape and lead and be in front of everything."

When the time comes, though, they know Daniels will be ready for it.

"It allows Jayden just to absolutely focus on him getting himself absolutely ready to get rocking," Quinn said.

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