The Pittsburgh Steelers have been busy in free agency, including the signing of offensive lineman James Daniels, and today I wanted to provide some data context to what he has done in his career so far. Let’s get right to it, starting with 2021 blocking grades from Pro Football Focus:
Comparing Daniels 2021 season in Chicago to the NFL and Steelers we can see some interesting context, mainly being the strongest run blocker of the colored players and ranking 22nd of the 92 guards on the graph! This highlights one big reason why the addition was such a good fit, with his strength as a run blocker filling a glaring weakness from last season.
He was also comfortably above the mean in both data points, bringing value in the pass game as well last year in his most complete season. Even though Daniels ranked fourth out of the colored players in this regard, he was 32nd as a pass blocker across the NFL! Considering quarterback Justin Fields played the most last season for the Bears and had the seventh longest time to throw number per Next Gen Stats, Daniels’ pass block grade is even more impressive in my eyes when comparing to the 2021 Steelers guards that benefited more from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s quickest time to throw in the entire NFL.
Daniels also provided the most snaps in his career (1,121), all at right guard. He did have the most penalties (9) and sacks (3) of his career though, which will be interesting to monitor moving forward. Hopefully he can carry the quality and quantity overall from last year with him to Pittsburgh.
Now let’s look at the rest of Daniels’ career, starting with his rookie year and 2020 when PFF also graded him at guard:
Right away the run blocking prowess jumps out again, piggybacking on the takeaway from earlier, with an especially good 2020 that ranked 29th rank in the two seasons of data! He also had his lowest overall grade in his career (54.4) as a pass blocker that season, and important to note he only had 305 snaps with all of them at left guard.
As a rookie Daniels was also above the mean in both data points like last season and had a stronger grade as a pass blocker. He played 823 snaps at left guard with a few at the other guard spot as well. In both 2018 and 2020, Daniels had his lowest number of penalties and did not allow a sack!
Daniels had his best grade as a pass blocker for his career in 2019, when he virtually split time at guard and center. Let’s look at that season, when PFF graded him as a center:
Of the 37 players on the graph, Daniels lands above the mean in both data points again, with 500+ snaps at both center and left guard. As a pass blocker he ranked 13th and only allowed one sack! Daniels also was 16th as a run blocker, which was actually his lowest grade in this regard of his career, highlighting the consistency that will seemingly continue next season.
Overall, the data highlights the above average play throughout Daniels’ career with the one exception as a pass blocker in 2020. The experience and value he provides at all of the interior offensive line positions, with 1500+ snaps at left guard, 1000+ at right guard along with his strongest grades, and 500+ at center, are all a huge bonus of the addition to the Steelers group that was the weakest link of the 2021 offense.
In an unusually aggressive and active free agency with ample cap space, it will be interesting to see how the pieces come together for Pittsburgh in 2022, and what Daniels’ time looks like in the black and gold.
What are your thoughts on the signing of James Daniels? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!