The Bears used their seventh pick in the second round (39th overall) to bolster the questionable interior of their offensive line by selecting Iowa center James Daniels.
After last season, the Bears chose not to exercise the $8-million option on 2017 starting left guard, Josh Sitton. Veteran journeyman Eric Kush lined up in that spot during last week’s veteran minicamp. In addition, right guard Kyle Long has had three surgeries (neck, shoulder and elbow), since he last played in a game, and he did not participate in the minicamp.
The Bears have some versatility among the middle three OL spots because of Cody Whitehair. He’s started 28 games at center, two at right guard and two at left guard since he was a second-round draft pick in 2016. Whitehair can move back to his college position of guard to accommodate Daniels in the middle.
But the Bears could also keep Whitehair at center, since some scouts believe Daniels has enough size, length and athleticism to make the move to guard. He started two games at left guard as an Iowa freshman and 25 at center in 2016-17.
Daniels did 21 reps of 225 pounds on the bench at the combine, and he probably needs to get stronger and heavier to earn a job at guard in the NFL, but he has the quickness and movement skills to make the move.
The 6-foot-3, 306-pound Daniels has 33.75-inch arms and was a two-year starter for the Hawkeyes and coach Kirk Ferentz, who has sent numerous linemen to the NFL since he took over the Iowa program in 1999. Prior to that, Ferentz spent six years as an NFL coach. Like all of Ferentz’s protégé’s, Daniels is technically sound and shows good quickness.
Because of his large frame and because he doesn’t even turn 21 until September, Daniels should have significant upside as he continues to mature. He also gets high grades for intelligence and the ability to make OL calls at the line of scrimmage.
“I’ll say this about James,” Ferentz said. “I just I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a more talented C prospect. That includes my time in the NFL. He’s got some skills that are just really unusual. And he’s a really intelligent guy. And one interesting thing about him, you get the feedback from the NFL folks. That’s strictly off film. They haven’t had a chance to investigate the kind of person he is and his intelligence.”