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James Daniels scouting report: The ideal Bengals replacement for Russell Bodine

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Athleticism at the center position matters more than you would think, and that’s just one thing the 20-year-old Daniels can bring to an offensive line.

In a matter of one week, the Buffalo Bills managed to fix the two biggest problems on the Bengals’ offensive line. First, the two teams swapped first round picks along with day three picks in a deal that sent Cordy Glenn to Cincinnati to start; as such, Cedric Ogbuehi is no longer the team’s starting left tackle. Seven days later, the Bills agreed to terms with Russell Bodine on a two-year deal. All of the sudden, the left side of the line looks much better, but there’s now a vacancy where Bodine once was. A welcomed vacancy, but a vacancy nonetheless. So now, we can actually ask this question:

Who should replace Russell Bodine?

I’m glad you asked.

You’ve read far too much from me about what Bodine doesn’t do well on the football field. You’ve seen it with your own eyes for four years. The reality is, there were just some blocks that Bodine wasn’t capable of executing. No matter how much the offense tried to work around that, his incompetence always caught up to them, and that started with his lack of balance/flexibility and core strength.

If the Bengals really want to see improvement at the center position, inserting a player with a higher athletic ceiling than Bodine would be an ideal start. There are a handful of linemen in this draft class who fit that description, but Iowa center James Daniels probably fits it the best. Watch the video above and read on for more info on Daniels.

Combine Numbers

Height: 6’3”

Weight: 306 pounds

Arm length: 33 3/4”

Hands: 9 1/2”

Bench press: 21 reps

Vertical Jump: 30.5”

Broad Jump: 108.0”

3-cone Drill: 7.29 seconds

20-yard shuttle: 4.4 seconds

The short shuttle and three cone have shown to be the most indicative drills for predicting success at the center position, and the correlation becomes even more clear when you add mass density into the equation. The short shuttle puts hip flexibility to the test, while ankle flexibility is the focal point of the three cone. But both drills do stress an athlete’s ability to change direction at high speeds. If you are able to do the drills quickly with a dense body-type, you’re likely to maintain that athleticism through contact.

The average short shuttle and three cone times for centers are roughly in the 4.6 and 7.7 range respectively. At 6’3”, 310 pounds, Bodine clocked an average 4.66 short shuttle, but a woeful 8.26 three cone. Did you ever wonder why Bodine was unable to keep his feet on the ground when trying to generate movement on the move or in pass protection? This was a big part of the problem. Compare that to Daniels at almost the same height and weight and his 4.4 short shuttle and 7.29 three cone, which are both times that some edge rushers can’t hit without the added 30-40 pounds. Daniels’ insane athleticism is the focal point of his profile, and it was impossible to miss when watching the tape:

When your center can reach a nose tackle who’s not only shaded over the desired gap to attack, but shaded over the center’s snapping hand, it does so much for the rest of the offensive line. You can see the explosion and hip fluidity from Daniels to get out in front of the nose, and seal him off completely. This is like a foreign concept in the Bengals offense.

The very next play, it’s so simple to him. Every time he is ready to snap, Daniels’ lower body acts as if it’s been released from 10 megatons of resistance. He can reach A and B gap defenders alike in an instant and has the length to get there even quicker.

How about a 3-technique? Daniels can reach block that, too. Not only does he once again quickly leverage himself in front of the tackle, he’s sustaining that leverage on the move to further seal him off. This is advanced physical prowess on display and really matches what he did at the combine, but Daniels has some warts to his game that need to be addressed.

More times than I liked to see, Daniels took himself out blocks that he could’ve easily made. Whether that was a poor angle or just not hitting his strike, defenders would watch him fly by him or easily disengage. Daniels is a hyper-aggressive blocker who has oodles of explosion and quickness, and sometimes it gets the best of him. This was especially evident in his second level blocking.

Speed is important for centers because the faster you are, the more effective you can be on pulls and sealing off second level defenders, but that speed is useless if you take bad angles or over pursue and end up looking back at the linebacker you had making the tackle at the line. This was arguably Daniels’ biggest flaw on tape, and it hurt the Iowa running game as much as his reach blocks helped it.

The MIKE linebacker isn’t always going to be a victim to the lineman in the second level. Sometimes he’s going to read the flow of the blocking and create for himself. Daniels needs work in terms of locking on and targeting defenders in space, because as soon as he starts taking good angles and controlling his movements, his length will help immensely in this area. When it clicks, it’s downright dominating to witness:

Daniels always manages to get his pads low and drive in an upward fashion to maximize the amount of force he builds up. When he connects in the sweet-spot like he does here, he obliterates fools.

As a pass protector, Daniels has the quick feet to mirror counter moves and length to keep his chest clean, but his inconsistencies come from a slight lack of an anchor and grip strength.

On this play, Daniels has the rep won in the first two and a half seconds, but loses his feet ever so slightly and is unable to stunt the tackle’s last-ditch effort. At his current frame —which doesn’t look to be maxed out yet — he’s not going to completely stifle bull rushes if his chest is exposed. He counters this well with not shooting his hands quickly, but getting them low and driving them up.

That’s a solid anchor mixed with active hands and effective forward lean. One quality that I always appreciated from Bodine was his willingness to look for work when he wasn’t isolated with a nose tackle in pass protection. Daniels has the same mentality that will win over his future teammates.

What makes Daniels’ 2017 tape so damn impressive is the fact that he just turned 20-years-old and played at just under 300 pounds. The NFL is going to want him to maintain the weight at which he showed up at the combine, and with his testing numbers as impressive as they are, it’s safe to say he can still play at a high level with that added mass. But how soon can a team get him to that level?

In 2013, the Dallas Cowboys traded back 13 spots in the first round to the 31st overall pick, where they took a chance on the first center off the board in Travis Frederick. Frederick was considered a Day 2 prospect and the Cowboys received a good amount of criticism following the pick. But Bill Callahan, the offensive line coach at the time, and his assistant Frank Pollack, developed Frederick into the most dominant center in the game, and Dallas hasn’t looked back. Once Pollack was promoted to offensive line coach in 2015, Frederick was already a force to be reckoned with. Now, Pollack is the head of a new offensive line in Cincinnati, which happens to be in dire need of a new center.

NFL Draft projection: As of right now, Daniels could go off the board anywhere from the middle of the first round to the middle of the second round. If he’s available past the first 50 selections, a Laremy Tunsil situation must’ve occurred. Daniels is not the same kind of lineman Frederick is or was coming out, but Frederick made incredible leaps in technique and ability under Pollack’s tutelage. Daniels possesses more raw tools than any interior offensive lineman in this class, and he can give the Bengals a noticeable upgrade in the middle of the offensive line for years to come. When the Bengals are on the clock in the first round, Pollack may very well be banging the table for him like Paul Alexander did for Russell Bodine four years ago.