I didn’t think Jayden Daniels should’ve been No. 2 on the list.

The LSU quarterback entered the 2023 season with considerable buzz. After leading the Tigers to an SEC West crown that included a thrilling victory against Alabama, Daniels got plenty of attention entering his 5th season as a Power 5 starter — shoutout the COVID season — and 2nd at LSU.

It made sense why Daniels was so decorated. He came back to an offense that was loaded at the pass-catcher spots with Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr., and there was an expectation that it’d be an improved offensive line after LSU righted the ship with true freshmen starting at the tackle spots. It didn’t hurt that LSU was 1 of 4 SEC teams that brought back its offensive play-caller in Mike Denbrock.

But no, I didn’t have Daniels at No. 2 on the list. What “list” am I referring to, you ask? I’m not talking about Daniels being No. 2 on the list of preseason Heisman favorites (which he was). I’m referring to not thinking Daniels deserved the No. 2 spot on my way-too-early list of returning starting SEC quarterbacks for 2023.

Needless to say, Daniels shut me up in the loudest possible way.

It’s something I’ve been pondering during these past few weeks wherein Daniels established himself as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Like, why in the world did I think that KJ Jefferson and Devin Leary were better signal-callers than Daniels? Did I just overthink Daniels’ upside because we had already seen 4 years of him as a good, but not great quarterback?

I’m not looking for ways to rationalize my thought process because clearly, I was wrong. What I’ve been trying to figure out for the last 3 months is what I was most wrong about.

The surroundings, I believed, were super favorable. I argued that Nabers was the top returning SEC receiver and Thomas was a member of the “2023 All-Bang The Drum Team.” I believed in both the offensive line progression and thought Daniels was poised to succeed in that scheme after having a full offseason in it.

But I just didn’t see any world in which it would all click like this. I mean, the guy currently has the best quarterback rating we’ve ever seen for an entire season. Doing that while being a 1,000-yard rusher is truly absurd. The 3 losses will probably prevent some from thinking it’s a historically great season, but look at these feats and tell me it’s not on the shortlist:

  • He racked up 50 total touchdowns pre-Heisman Trophy ceremony, and he did so without the aid of a conference championship game.
  • He’s 1 of 6 Power 5 players ever to have 40 touchdown passes and 5 interceptions or less in a season
  • He led FBS in 20-yard passes (70), 30-yard passes (36) and 40-yard passes (20)
  • He led the SEC in 10-yard runs (41), 20-yard runs (20) and 40-yard runs (6)
  • He finished No. 2 in the SEC in rushing … as a quarterback
  • He averaged 10.7 yards/play, which is a full 2 yards better than last year’s FBS leader CJ Stroud
  • He was responsible for 573 more yards than any other player in America

If you had told me in the preseason that Daniels would accomplish any 1 of those things, I would’ve pushed back.

Shoot, I would’ve pushed back if you had told me that after witnessing Daniels in Orlando. It’s ironic that Brian Kelly’s postgame comment that made the rounds was “we’re not the team I thought we were.”

I remember thinking to myself, “well, LSU. You’re kinda who I thought you were … a bit overrated.”

And to be clear, Daniels wasn’t entirely responsible for that thinking — my concerns about the LSU secondary were confirmed — but he was a big part of that. Daniels wasn’t even the best quarterback on the field that Sunday night. Florida State QB Jordan Travis outplayed him that night. Too many times in that opener, I thought Daniels made risky decisions with his legs (that hurdle into the line of scrimmage on a scramble was wild).

But from that moment on, it’s hard to imagine a player being more in control than Daniels was. By mid-November, I was saying something else to myself after watching Daniels.

“He gets every blade of grass he wants.”

Somewhere during his 5th season as a starter, it all clicked. Instead of being the skittish guy, you could watch Daniels in the latter half of the season and watch him pick the guy that he wanted to get into the end zone. Obviously, that couldn’t have happened without Denbrock’s play-calling, an elite offensive line and receivers that always found a way to get separation. Or if they didn’t get separation, Daniels trusted them to go up and make a play.

That trust in the offense turned him into an all-time great college player. Who knows what that’ll look like at the next level, where a myriad of factors could impact his legacy. All I know is that Daniels earned the right to have his ticket to New York punched.

Oh, and I know 1 other thing — that guy shouldn’t be No. 2 on anybody’s list anymore.