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Is JT Daniels worth the risk?

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Former USC and Georgia QB JT Daniels is visiting Mizzou this weekend. Is he the answer to Missouri’s quarterback questions?

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Georgia at Michigan John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Can I interest you in a former 5-star quarterback with 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions to his name in nine games played over the last two seasons?

It’s hard to ignore JT Daniels’ pedigree. The former USC and Georgia quarterback was a can’t-miss prospect coming out of Mater Dei High School back in 2018. Rivals rated Daniels as the second best pro style quarterback in that class, behind only Trevor Lawrence. Matt Corral, a likely first round pick in this year’s NFL Draft, was Rivals’ third rated quarterback.

For whatever reason, it just didn’t work at USC. Blame it on the situation, blame it on the coaching staff, blame it on whatever you please. Daniels started as a true freshman, and it was clear pretty early on this wasn’t going to be as easy a transition as was expected. He finished his first year with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He tore his ACL in the first game of the season the following year. Kedon Slovis took advantage of his opportunity, and it was over for Daniels at USC.

He transferred to Georgia. You can’t have a much better situation than what was being built in Athens, right? Why wouldn’t a former top prospect join the Dawgs? Well, because there might be more than meets the eye to the way Georgia utilizes its quarterbacks.

Daniels didn’t start immediately at Georgia. First they went with D’Wan Mathis. They quickly turned to Stetson Bennett. When Bennett got hurt in Georgia’s sixth game of the season, it was Daniels’ turn to start.

Daniels took advantage. Georgia won each of the four games he started to finish out the season. There was no argument; Daniels clearly took Georgia’s offense to another level. He was simply a more talented player than Stetson Bennett. Georgia’s stone age offense was starting to resemble a modern passing game. He went into the offseason as the obvious candidate to start in 2021.

Things got off to a bumpy start. The offense didn’t look right in Georgia’s 10-3 win against Clemson. He finished with just 135 passing yards. We found out after the game he was hurt with an apparent oblique injury. It was Bennett’s job again, but only for a week. Daniels returned against South Carolina and threw for more than 300 yards (again).

Georgia was 3-0 and Daniels was back on track. And then it all came to a screeching halt. Daniels was removed from the game against Vanderbilt after starting 9-for-10 for more than 125 yards and two touchdowns. He was, apparently, hurt again. That more or less ended Bennett’s tenure at Georgia.

Three years, all marred by injury, and now he’s back on the open market. Once viewed as a top quarterback prospect, is JT Daniels about to change the fortunes for his next team, or is he simply damaged goods?

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Daniels might not make good on the outsized expectations when he committed to USC. But can he still elevate those around him? Is he capable of serving as an improvement on Missouri’s current options at quarterback?

Absolutely.

I went back and watched all of Daniels’ pass attempts from his starts in 2020. What I saw was a quarterback who still had the talent we were sold on. He’s not perfect. He takes too many sacks, he doesn’t have the cannon of an arm you might expect out of a former top-rated recruit and he certainly doesn’t have the mobility of a guy like Jayden Daniels or even Brady Cook.

What he does do, though, is throw open his receivers. He leads them into open space on short routes and screens to maximize the yards after catch opportunities. He has excellent touch on his passes outside the numbers. He has full trust in his receivers to go up and win a jump ball (even when it comes back to haunt him). His accuracy is top-notch, probably better than any Missouri starting quarterback since Blaine Gabbert.

Daniels is worth the risk. And, don’t get it twisted, signing Daniels is absolutely a risk. It’s entirely possible Missouri adds Daniels, watches Tyler Macon and Cook walk out the door and ultimately realizes it had something better on its current roster than the player it added.

Them’s the breaks.

Daniels would immediately arrive on campus with a certain cache about him. Guys like Luther Burden, Mookie Cooper and Dominic Lovett would walk into the room and know they have a legitimate top-end talent at quarterback. There’s definitely some value in that. Especially if the Tigers are going to make good on the current promise in that wide receiver room.

Ultimately, this comes down to Eli Drinkwitz’s evaluation of Cook and Macon as much as it does what he thinks Daniels can or can’t do. If Drinkwitz believes in his current options, he shouldn’t add another quarterback. His actions, however, seem to be singing a different tune.

This is the third known quarterback the Tigers have chased this offseason, joining the likes of Spencer Rattler and Jayden Daniels. All three were former top-end recruits. All three had up-and-down starts to their respective careers elsewhere. And Drinkwitz apparently viewed all three as an upgrade on his current situation, given the public nature of the recruitment.

Adding Daniels to the current quarterback room would be a risk. Missouri might gain one player and lose two others. Drinkwitz makes the big bucks to come to make these kinds of decisions. If he were asking me for my recommendation, I would be in favor of the move.

I think Daniels is worth the risk.