LSU’s Jayden Daniels is The Sporting News 2023 Player of the Year

The 2023 LSU spring game attracted star power to the sidelines. 

Joe Burrow, the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner, posed for a picture with LSU women’s basketball star Angel Reese – and that made the social media rounds for everyone to see. What you didn’t see was the off-to-the-side conversation Burrow had with Jayden Daniels, who was preparing for his second season as the Tigers’ starter. 

Daniels knew the comparisons were coming. In his second season at LSU, Burrow pieced together one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history. He shared some advice with Daniels. 

“He said, ‘Man, just keep being you, and keep getting better in each and every little way you can,’” Daniels told Sporting News. 

Daniels passed for 3,812 yards, 40 TDs and four interceptions. He rushed for 1,134 yards and 10 TDs. Like Burrow, Daniels won the Heisman Trophy winner, and despite a three-loss season it’s safe to say he took Burrow’s advice and quite literally ran with it. For his efforts, Daniels is the 2023 Sporting News College Football Player of the Year.

MORE: Final voting results from 2023 Heisman Trophy

Jayden Daniels: 2023 Sporting News Player of the Year

Daniels was knocked out of the Alabama game on a hit by Dallas Turner on Nov. 4, but the quarterback responded with a two-week stretch that clinched the award. He totaled 372 passing yards and 234 yards – with a mesmerizing 85-yard touchdown run – in a 52-35 victory against Florida on Nov. 11. He totaled eight touchdowns in a 56-14 victory against Georgia State the following week. 

With that, the comparisons to Lamar Jackson – who was SN’s Player of the Year in 2016 at Louisville, began in earnest. That was a humbling experience for Daniels, whose first memory of Jackson was watching the breakout performance in the 2015 Music City Bowl against Texas A&M. 

“I’m a huge fan of Lamar and everything that he’s done,” Daniels said. “It means a lot – just how electric he is – to be mentioned in the same sentence as him – someone that won the Heisman, someone that won the unanimous MVP. It just means a lot.” 

LSU led the FBS with 46.4 points per game and 547.8 yards per game. Daniels found a connection with a group of receivers that included SN All-American Malik Nabers – who led the FBS with 1,546 yards – and Brian Thomas – who led the FBS with 15 TDs. According to Pro Football Focus, Daniels had 22 TDs and no interceptions on passes of 20 yards or more. 

MORE: The Sporting News 2023 All-America team

“I’ve always been somebody who has been good at throwing the deep ball,” Daniels said. “It was more about trusting myself and trusting my receivers to go out and make the plays. That’s something we worked on all offseason. Just putting it and throwing it to a spot. I know my receivers’ speed, and nine times out of 10 they are going to go get it. They are very fast, good athletes. That was all, just trusting each other. That’s what we did, and we took the game to the next level.”

Jayden Daniels

(Getty Images)

Daniels also increased his rushing yardage – which was always part of the package but improved with a year of seasoning in the SEC. 

“That’s something I’ve always done,” Daniels said. “All the way back to high school I was rushing for more than 1,000 yards. It was kind of getting back to those roots. You have big 300-pound monsters coming at you who can run fast. It was getting back to that and just taking off.” 

Daniels continued a trend, too. He played three seasons at Arizona State from 2019-21. Daniels is the fourth different transfer quarterback to win SN Player of the Year honors since 2014 – a list that includes Baker Mayfield (2015, 2017), Burrow (2019) and USC’s Caleb Williams (2022). The Heisman Trophy finalists – Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon’s Bo Nix – also were transfer quarterbacks in their second year at a new school. Daniels said working with Brian Kelly the last two years enhanced that experience. 

MORE: Latest QB news from the transfer portal tracker

“For me, Bo Nix and Michael Penix, we played fairly early in our careers and there was still time to get a fresh start,” Daniels said. “I would say it helped all of us out a lot. At the end of the day you have to do what’s best for you, even if it’s a tough decision.” 

That is the advice Daniels – who will be one of the stars on the sideline when he returns for a spring game in 2024 and beyond – would pay forward to the next quarterbacks. 

“Keep being you.” At LSU, that tends to work out. 

“Everything happens for a reason,” Daniels said. “My time at Arizona State, I loved it. Loved it with Coach Herm (Edwards) and Antonio Pierce – two important people in my life to this day that I still have a connection with. I just feel like if you’re a freshman or someone who is looking to transfer, you have to do what’s best for you.” 

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