Let’s not waste words. Washington should pursue USC quarterback J.T. Daniels, who recently announced he’s entering the transfer portal.
Why? Because he’ll make UW better. Isn’t that the reason any program pursues a player? In Daniels’ case, we’ve got a former five-star prospect — a 6-foot-3, 210-pound pro-style passer with a strong, accurate arm and a season of Pac-12 experience. And sure, his potential wasn’t always evident in 2018, when Daniels completed 60% of his passes and threw for 2,672 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 games; when USC went 5-7, stumbling to its worst season since 2000.
But consider the context. Daniels, as a true freshman, was handed the reins to an offense with a coordinator — Tee Martin — who would be fired after the season. His skill players were young. His running game was inconsistent. His results were decidedly mixed, but should Daniels be totally discounted because of it?
Don’t forget that, in 2015, freshman UW QB Jake Browning produced similar numbers with superior skill players. He completed 63% of his passes, throwing for 2,955 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while playing in one more game than Daniels. Then, the following season, he produced 43 passing touchdowns and nine picks and led the Huskies to the College Football Playoff.
Besides, this is still the player — we think — who was ranked as a five-star prospect, the No. 2 pro-style passer and the No. 16 overall recruit in the 2018 class by the 247Sports Composite. It’s still a U.S. Army All-American who just about every program nationally — including Washington — wanted. It’s still a quarterback who, on the surface, fits snugly in new UW offensive coordinator John Donovan’s pro-style system.
Of course, some fans will be scared away by the similarities between Daniels and departing UW quarterback Jacob Eason. Like Eason, Daniels is a former five-star recruit who won a starting job as a true freshman, produced relatively underwhelming results, got injured in the opener of his sophomore season and was promptly replaced by a surging freshman.
It’s eerie, I know.
But the answer isn’t to live in fear, and it also isn’t to overcorrect. Washington isn’t suddenly going to stop recruiting five-star talents because Eason’s lone season as UW’s starter didn’t end in a playoff push. And if Donovan and UW coach Jimmy Lake think Daniels would be a positive addition, they should pursue him. If he’s healthy — and that could be the key question, considering Daniels’ torn ACL and meniscus last September — how could it hurt?
Here’s how, says the skeptic. The concern is that Daniels’ addition could push UW’s three existing scholarship quarterbacks — redshirt sophomore Jacob Sirmon, redshirt freshman Dylan Morris and true freshman Ethan Garbers — to consider a transfer of their own. And to that, I say: so? In fall camp — if there is a fall camp — there will be a quarterback competition. The best player will win the job. The contestants will push each other; they’ll all improve as a result. And if the guy in third or fourth place wants to leave, he’ll leave. That’s a near-inevitability in the current college football climate. But it doesn’t mean UW’s coaches should hesitate to fill their roster with the best available QBs.
(Plus, don’t forget that five-star UW quarterback commit Sam Huard will also be waiting in the wings the following fall.)
Oh, and another thing: unlike former Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello — who chose to make a graduate transfer to Mississippi State over Washington this offseason — Daniels is not necessarily a rental. He would arrive in Seattle with three seasons of eligibility remaining. If a rule passes to allow one-time transfers to be immediately eligible, as most expect, he’d become the instant favorite to win the starting job this fall.
And, sure, if he has a great season, Daniels could declare for the 2021 NFL draft. But that would also mean he had a great season. And isn’t that the point?
There are some ancillary benefits here as well. Prior to enrolling at USC, Daniels starred at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High School — one of Southern California’s premier football powerhouses. It’s the same program that produced 2020 UW center signee Myles Murao. It’s also the program that touts four four- or five-star recruits in 2021, including Husky cornerback target Jaylin Davies. But, when it comes to Southern California prep football powers, UW’s current roster contains four players from St. John Bosco High School (Terrell Bynum, Sean McGrew, Trent McDuffie and James Smith), two from Servite (Keith Taylor and Julius Irvin) and Murao is the lone representative of Mater Dei.
So, yes, it’s not the primary reason Washington would decide to recruit Daniels, but establishing a pipeline to a traditional power in your most important recruiting region is an inarguably enticing perk.
All things considered, Daniels’ appeal is fairly obvious. It isn’t hard to find a fit — in football, and elsewhere. The former five-star recruit is also an excellent student, a psychology major with a 3.49 GPA who made the Pac-12’s academic honor roll in 2019.
It’s worth noting, as well, that none of UW’s three current scholarship quarterbacks have started a game on the collegiate level — and only Sirmon has attempted a pass (he was 2 for 3 for 19 yards last season).
With possibly the Pac-12’s premier defense in 2020, Washington could be a quarterback away from returning to the Rose Bowl (or beyond). Perhaps that quarterback is already on its roster. But, whether he wins the job or not, Daniels’ presence would undoubtedly improve the competition. It would push Sirmon, Morris and Garbers to elevate their play and impress in every practice. It would make everybody better.
Then, let the best man win.