MADISON — Owen Daniels went to bed early Saturday night, right after the first day of the NFL Draft ended. Like a child anticipating Christmas, Daniels wanted tomorrow to arrive so he could find out his professional football future.
On Sunday morning, he was the very first pro prospect to learn his fate.
Daniels, a former University of Wisconsin tight end, was the first player taken in the fourth round, opening the second day of the draft with his selection by the Houston Texans with the 98th overall choice.
Daniels said he watched all 10 hours of Saturday’s draft, “not because I thought I was going to get drafted in the first or second round or anything, but just because I like to see what’s going on.”
Daniels expected to get drafted sometime between 7:30 and 9 p.m. last night — during the third round. The call he was anticipating came 13 hours later.
Daniels received the call at about 9:45 a.m. Central Sunday from the Texans, verifying that he was still healthy and had not tangled with the law since the NFL Scouting Combine in February. According to Daniels, since he was A, healthy, and B, staying out of trouble, the Texans said, “We’re going to take you with this next pick here.”
“I was like, ‘all right, cool.’ It was a good start to the day,” Daniels recalled during a conference call Sunday afternoon. He only talked to the Texans at the Combine and was unsure of their interest in him, but he also knew they needed a tight end.
Like former Badger teammate Brian Calhoun, who was drafted Saturday by Detroit, Daniels will work with a coaching staff in its first season at a new location. The Texans’ staff includes tight ends coach Brian Pariani, who is in his first year at Houston and was a former tight ends coach at Denver.
“I know that it’s a new coaching staff and we have a lot of talent there and we’re working to turn the program around,” Daniels said.
At tight end, Daniels finished his career with 852 receiving yards on 62 catches, including eight touchdowns. Those stats are a testament to his prolific pass-catching ability, which will serve him well in the NFL.
“I think in general, tight ends are a hot commodity in the league and it’s in each team’s best interest to use that and use a tight end to stretch the field and actually be a true weapon,” Daniels said.
Daniels began his redshirt freshman year at special teams and quarterback but saw little playing time behind former Badger quarterbacks Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi, both of whom are in the NFL. He converted to tight end during Alamo Bowl practices in 2002 but tore his anterior cruciate ligament — repeating an injury he had suffered in high school. He played tight end through the rest of his UW career, battling injuries to his ankle but ultimately sitting out just one game from his sophomore to senior years.
This weekend, of course, provided him a good opportunity to reflect on his years at Wisconsin.
“Looking back on that, it put things in perspective that I’m proud of what I’ve been through and proud of how far I’ve come and I’m honored to be in the position I am,” Daniels said.