Kansas football: What Jalon Daniels returning means for the Jayhawks

Jalon Daniels returning to Kansas football opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for the Jayhawks next year.

Kansas Jayhawks quarterback Jalon Daniels released an emphatic video on his X (formerly Twitter) account yesterday that sent the college football world into a frenzy. He was aware of the false rumors being spread by K-State writer Derek Young and put them to rest by announcing he’d be back at KU in 2024.

Now that Kansas football has its signal-caller for at least one more season, it will allow head coach Lance Leipold to prioritize recruiting offensive skill position players rather than a player to lead under center. Mason Fairchild, Jason Bean, and KU’s two top offensive linemen will run out of eligibility after this year ends, and there’s a 50/50 chance star tailback Devin Neal will declare for the NFL Draft.

With the new age of the transfer portal, there’s no telling which players will return or stay with the Jayhawks. It’s too unpredictable to even speculate, though it’d be reasonable to assume guys like Daniel Hishaw and Lawrence Arnold are content with their roles.

For one, O-line coach Scott Fuchs and Leipold will have a lot of work to do recruiting-wise. Left tackle Dominick Puni is NFL-bound, while center Mike Novitsky only has three more collegiate games remaining. Those two have anchored Kansas football in the trenches since the beginning of last year, and they’ve led a unit that has allowed the least amount of sacks in the conference since then.

Keeping Daniels healthy will be paramount. Unless they recruit a veteran quarterback as talented as Jason Bean who is willing to back him up — which likely won’t happen — KU will be stuck in situations like they were one week ago when true freshman Cole Ballard got his first real game action in one of the most crucial outings of the season.

And how can the coaching staff keep Daniels healthy? With a sufficient offensive line and limiting his running ability. So, with him returning next year, they better have something arranged so that QB1 is protected behind the line of scrimmage. There are also transfers like Logan Brown and Spencer Lovell who can make an impact, though those two are wildcards at this point.

Next, Kansas needs to go after a tight end. Mason Fairchild graduating is not ideal considering Daniels likes to throw to him often. Fourth-string Tevita Noa is also set to graduate, and although he’s primarily used in the run game, that leaves Jared Casey and Trevor Kardell in the tight end room. Casey is more of a blocker, and Kardell hasn’t shown enough of his receiving ability to be a clear starter.

Having a dynamic tight end who can break off big catches is crucial. KU’s wide receiver core has been solid, but if Devin Neal doesn’t return and the Jayhawks can’t rely on the run as much next year, the offense could struggle to get it going at times.

How KU attacks the transfer portal will be predicated on whether Neal stays in Lawrence. There is also plenty of uncertainty regarding which players will stick around. One thing for certain is that if Jalon Daniels stays healthy in 2024, Kansas football will be right back in the mix for a Big 12 championship run.