Well Jayden Daniels is on his way to New York and is very likely going to win the Heisman trophy. How will you remember That Kid Jayden’s 2023 season?
As I scout quarterbacks going into the NFL draft it’s always hard to see how well a college quarterback’s game will translate to the pros. Jayden Daniels seems different. My favorite story that came out about Daniels was how he prepared for games. He used a special type of virtual reality training that helped him make quick reads at high speeds. Sometimes this type of training was sped up to speeds that would be impossible to see in game, so when Daniels would step out in the actual field, it all slows down for him.
Literally: The 85-yard TD run against Florida is The Heisman Moment for me. The cherry on top of a record breaking night, doing what no other college quarterback has ever done, all after being in concussion protocol after Bama tried to kill him.
Physically: By permanently inking that TD play somewhere on my body.
Ever messed around with Michael Vick in Madden 2004? I didn’t, I was too young to have that experience, but watching Jayden Daniels this season felt like watching a video game on rookie mode. Every time he took a snap, there was a chance you’d be blown away. It got to a point where a 20-yard pass was pedestrian despite that being a miracle for some other quarterbacks. I bring up Vick because if you’ve ever watched him throw a deep ball, you notice how easy he made it look. He uncocked a 40-yard ball with the grace of a typical 10-yard pass. Jayden Daniels is that but better and with the opposite hand. His pinpoint accuracy is the stuff of dreams, something I never anticipated I’d ever see again after Joe Burrow did it in his legendary season.
Then there’s the running. Jayden Daniels had more rushing yards this season than any other LSU QB has had in their entire career. He did this thanks to one of the best offensive lines in the country and an uncanny ability to make things happen in open space. Lamar Jackson is the last QB I saw who was the fastest guy on his own team, and Jayden looks faster. That run he broke off against Florida is seared into my memory because he blew past two DBs who had a good angle on him and were deeper in the backfield like they were traffic cones.
Most importantly of all, despite everything the defense didn’t do, Jayden Daniels went out there and played his ass off. He didn’t give up at the end of the FSU game and led a far-too-late TD drive. That was the moment the LSU offense kicked into overdrive. He willed a team that gave up 706 yards to Ole Miss down the field and put them in a position to extend the game. He made Nick Saban’s defense look like fools through the air and on the ground. This team was a 6-6 team at best without him. The Arkansas game should’ve been a loss, but he willed a win. The Missouri game should’ve been a loss, but he willed a win. The Texas A&M game should’ve been a loss, but he willed a win. He took shots he never should’ve and got back up time after time. He played with heart, grit, determination and a love for the game that we’d missed for a little bit. I’m happy that I got to bear witness to the greatest season by an LSU player when I was student. It’s nice to see the second best season as an alumnus.
I can describe it in one word: Dazzling.
Jayden Daniels was in an impossible situation. Anytime he had to settle for a punt, it felt like it would lose the game. Three times it did. That’s why the 2023 season will largely be remembered by LSU fans as a failure. It was, but the final record is a testament to Jayden Daniels’ greatness. He had to be perfect to win, and nine out of 12 times he did it.
The greatness of Joe Burrow was how he was so in control of every game that it almost looked effortless. Any time a defense threw something at him he conjured up a magic spell like Doctor Strange and dissipated the threat with nonchalance.
Jayden Daniels was different. He played football like he was in a collapsing building above a river of lava. And he somehow always managed to dance out of the chaos with agility and grace.
There are two plays I will always think of. The first is his 35-yard touchdown run with eight minutes left against Missouri. For as much as the 2022 offense relied on Daniels scrambling, he didn’t have many breakaway runs. Prior to the bowl game he only had one rush of 30+ yards all season. So any time he took off with his legs, I was just hoping for a first down. But against Mizzou here he just. kept. going. I never considered the Lamar Jackson comparisons until that play.
The other play I’ll never forget is his touchdown run against Florida. No, not the 85-yard one where he just hits the NOS and outruns everybody, which may surprise you. The 51-yard run in the third quarter. I don’t really have words for how this run made me feel in the moment. I thought I knew exactly who Jayden Daniels was and what he was capable of, and then he topped himself. He made an entire defense look silly on one run. He is actually unstoppable.
And I don’t even have time to talk about his insanely perfect passing performance this season.
I will remember Jayden Daniels as a force of nature on the football field. Not just a good football player, but a tidal wave of athleticism, strength and quickness. LSU will (hopefully) continue to have video game offenses and great quarterbacks, but I’m not sure if any of them will ever be a one-man wrecking crew like this again.
I’ll remember the growth. He turned every limitation he had into a huge strength. He had huge accuracy issues especially downfield, he had issues working within structure, he didn’t trust anything but his legs, etc. He got better in-structure as last year went on but I never imagined this guy becoming someone who punished man coverage by beating tight windows, never imagined him bombing teams over the top, never imagined him throwing guys open against leverage and adapting his placement. He was always electric carrying the ball, but he’s a professional, adult Quarterback now, just one who also happens to run the ball like Trindon Holliday returning a kick.
He grew into a peer to Lamar Jackson, and he will be rewarded as such first in New York, and then in Detroit on April 25.
In all my years watching sports don’t think I’ve ever been more invested in a single athlete’s season than Jayden Daniels’s 2023. I sketched out in August the type of production Daniels would likely need in order to make it to New York, and I felt like his dreams for a Heisman were ended after Dallas Turner knocked him out of the Alabama game.
We’ll never know what the 2023 Tigers could have achieved had the defense been even decent, but That Kid Jayden is rightfully being rewarded for his individual efforts all season long. Now obviously I’d rather LSU win the national championship than any individual award 100 times out of 100, but there’s a lot worse consolation prizes than a Heisman.
The Heisman Trophy is the single most iconic award in American sports. It’s pose is iconic and winning it guarantees immortality. Sure the haters and losers will bemoan LSU losing three games this year, but those of us who did watch knows that Jayden Daniels was incredible and the Heisman is supposed to be awarded to the best individual player in the country. And there wasn’t anybody better than 5 this year.