When the NFL draft concluded on April 22, the Patriots were not nearly finished trying to improve team depth in any way possible. Among the calls placed by the team was one to Auburn wide receiver Ronney Daniels, whose name went uncalled.
"I was a little surprised, but I guess that's just how life is sometimes," Daniels said. "New England is giving me a chance to come in and show them what I bring. I have a fair shot to make the team, and that's all I can ask. There are a couple of older guys [Terry Glenn and Troy Brown] who have established themselves, so from my point of view if I can come in and show them what I know I can do, I'll have a good chance of contributing."
Why would the Patriots want to give him a shot? Well, Daniels is a big target at 6-1 and 210 pounds. Despite not having top speed, he is a very good athlete who was a Parade All-American and was listed among the top seven weakside linebackers in the Southeast by National Recruiting Advisor in 1994 as a senior in Lake Wales, Fla.
In his first season at Auburn, Daniels made a huge splash with 56 catches for a school-record 1,068 yards and nine touchdowns. He was the undisputed focal point of the offense. The numbers dipped for his sophomore season to 34 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns.
Daniels was slowed a bit by a strained knee ligament the spring prior to his sophomore season, and Auburn's offense centered on running back Rudi Johnson, who ran for 1,567 yards and 13 touchdowns. Daniels did lead the Tigers in receiving, but his role as the offensive leader wasn't there.
"The first year, I was more of the go-to guy," Daniels said. "Then last year I was more of a role player. The type of player I am, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. The second year, that was my role. Whatever the team needed from me in order to win, I did it. I made key catches when we needed the first downs and stuff like that, but carrying the load was not my role."
Daniels left after his sophomore season because of age considerations. He had two seasons of eligibility remaining, but he will turn 25 in September. That is old by rookie standards, and Daniels realistically couldn't afford to wait much longer before shooting for an NFL career.
He is called a rookie, but Daniels may be better prepped on the rigors of professional sports than most of the first-year players. His football career was put on hold for three years while he played baseball in the Montreal Expos organization after being drafted as a pitcher in the sixth round of the 1995 draft.
Baseball didn't pan out, but Daniels learned the importance of putting his entire focus into his work. Now he hopes to use that focus to achieve success in his sport of choice.
"Having the experience of treating [my career] like it is a job instead of just a game helps me a lot," Daniels said. "You have to work hard everyday to keep your job or earn your job. In college, once you are a starter, you are basically the starter until you leave, no matter what you do. By me playing pro baseball, it helped me become a more responsible person. I know what I am getting in to."