Facing a third-and-nine with just a minute to go in their Thanksgiving game, the Chicago Bears needed a first down to seal an impressive victory over the Detroit Lions under backup quarterback Chase Daniel. Running back Tarik Cohen took the handoff and darted to the right, finding the edge with Detroit Lions defenders swarming. He ran straight into the arms of teammate and guard James Daniels, who pulled him the three yards needed for the first down and the win. Daniels had gotten off to a slow start in his rookie year, but the second-round pick has recently channeled the success he thrived off in college.
After leaving Iowa following his junior year, Daniels was the second-highest graded NCAA center at 89.3. But the Bears decided to use him at guard — a position he hadn’t taken a live snap at since his freshman year in 2015. Naturally, that led to some growing pains as he adjusted to not only the quickness and toughness of the NFL, but also the position itself. From Weeks 4 to 9, Daniels’ 56.9 overall grade ranked 52nd among guards with 90 or more snaps. His overall grade over the last three weeks, though, is a vastly improved 77.7 — fourth among guards and the best mark among rookie offensive linemen in that span. Even with the early struggles, Daniels has yet to allow a sack on the season.
But what’s even scarier (at least for opposing teams) is just how fast Daniels is improving. Over the past two weeks, he's played 80 pass-blocking snaps and has not allowed a single quarterback pressure. That's not only the most clean snaps among guards; it's the second-most snaps among offensive linemen in that span.
Daniels’ run-blocking remains fairly inconsistent, but it’s still been an area of improvement. Specifically, in weeks 10, 11 and 12, where Daniels was the Bears’ highest graded offensive lineman, runners who rushed to James' direction averaged 6.3 yards per carry. From weeks 4 to 9 (Daniels’ first game was in Week 4), rushing attempts to the same hole yielded just 3.7 yards. The sample size is small, but all signs point to Daniels having figured out what it takes to succeed at the NFL level.
In Week 11, Daniels was tasked with stopping many of the Minnesota Vikings’ large-bodied linemen. Throughout the game, he blocked Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Sheldon Richardson, among others. On 40 pass-block snaps, he allowed 0 pressures to a unit with the seventh-most sacks and 14th-most pressures. Since Joseph joined the Vikings in 2014, there had yet to be a game where both he and Griffen were held without a pressure — that is, until their Thanksgiving duel with a much improved Bears offensive line.
Daniels was PFF’s No. 2-ranked center for the 2018 NFL Draft, but the Bears were able to snag the now-guard in the second round, which could prove to be a steal given how valuable offensive lineman are in today’s NFL. Of the 14 rookie offensive lineman with 200 or more pass blocking snaps, Daniels has worked his way to allowing pressure on just 3.7% of snaps, which is second-best among the group and ahead of all first-round picks besides Indianapolis Colts guard Quenton Nelson.