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Duke Football And The NFL?

A lot of hard work is paying off for some Duke football players and the program in general

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Duke v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 7: Daniel Jones #17 of the Duke Blue Devils throws a pass during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Oxymoron? Cognitive dissonance? Things that do not belong together?

This is a program that went five years without an NFL draft pick, a program that for years could claim long-snapper Patrick Mannelly as the only NFL player of consequence.

But that was the not-so-good old days, the days before David Cutcliffe revived the Duke program and started sending players like Jamison Crowder, Laken Tomlinson and Matt Skura to the big time.

Duke had its pro day Tuesday and 31 NFL teams sent representatives; the Cowboys decided to sit it out.

Eight players participated; linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, tight ends Daniel Helm and Davis Koppenhaver; wide receivers T.J. Rahming and Johnathan Lloyd, offensive tackle Christian Harris and running back Nico Pierre.

And quarterback Daniel Jones, the clear first-among-equals.

Linebacker Ben Humphreys, defensive back Jeremy McDuffie and offensive lineman Zach Harmon declined to participate.

Tomlinson was a first-round pick in the 2015 draft and before Tomlinson, we have to go back to 1992 and Dave Brown to find a Blue-Devil first rounder.

Jones will try to become the second since Brown and by all accounts he helped himself Tuesday, a lot.

Much of the day is pretty mundane, measurements and weight-lifting and assorted timed drills. But it’s not mundane for the NFL guys with the stop watches and the long memories.

Jones went through this last month in Indianapolis at the NFL combine and he thought he had one area for improvement.

Did Jones improve from Indy?

“I think I did,” he said. “I certainly ran better. I wanted to improve that. It’s obviously easier to be comfortable here in Durham than in Indianapolis. I just wanted to prove I can run better.”

Jones was timed at 4.81 in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, 4.64 at Duke.

Then Jones got to throw.

He got to throw to four guys he threw to at Duke and he says that increased his comfort level.

But Jones made all the throws. The people who needed to be impressed were impressed.

The Duke Network interviewed NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah.

Jeremiah said Jones came into the day with high expectations and “I thought he exceeded that. It was an outstanding performance. Touch, timing, can really power the ball. The highest floor [of any quarterback in the draft]. He’s not going to be a bust.”

Jones seemed happy with the day.

“I think I’m prepared well. I understand NFL offenses. Something I take lots of pride in is my toughness, physically and mentally. I think when you’re confident in who you are, not much is going to change you. I think that’s the big thing — I know who I am. I’m pretty sure of that.”

David Cutcliffe knows something about NFL quarterbacks.

“The response that I got was what I thought it would be,” Cutcliffe said. “I told Daniel yesterday, ‘They hadn’t really seen you throw in your environment. This is your place, your house, your turf. You just go do what you do.’ And there were some jaws drop.”

Jones says he has a couple of private workouts scheduled and he’ll stay in Durham for those.

And then see what happens.

“I’m lucky to be in the position I am, and to be back at Duke doing it makes it a lot more fun. I realize not many people get to do this, not many people get to prepare for the NFL Draft, so being in this position, being here and understanding how many people have helped me to get here, you can’t help but just to feel lucky and try not to get too caught up in that stuff.”

The first-round debate seems to be over.

Jeremiah said that he could see Jones going as high as sixth, to the New York Giants.

NFL writer Matt Lombardo tweeted that he was “blown away by Daniel Jones’ arm strength.”

Troy Aikman--you know who he is--said he “liked what I saw--accurate ball placement, which is #1 for me when evaluating QBs.”

NFL Media tweeted “Look at teams that are here [mid-first round]– the Washington Redskins, the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants – I would say if I was going to guess, he’ll be with one of those teams.”

Giles-Harris also projects as a draft pick, albeit lower than Jones.

But he will be drafted.

He ran a reported 4.75 in Indy and decided that was good enough.

“He looks great right now,” Cutcliffe says. “He’s a football player.”

Helm wasn’t 100 percent yesterday, after an injury in Indy. But he likely did enough at the combine to solidify his draft status..

Duke tight end coach Jeff Faris says Helm “has worked incredibly hard for this opportunity.”

Cutcliffe says Helm is a “pro-type tight end. He’s going to be a guy who’s going to play on the line of scrimmage. He’s physical, catches the ball extremely well, runs with it extremely well.”

The others will likely have to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent. But Duke and Cutcliffe have put some UFAs in the league, Juwan Thompson and Lucas Patrick examples.

So, it can be done.

And the more times high-school prospects see Duke on draft day and NFL Sundays, the easier it is for Cutcliffe and his staff to convince that Duke can check the NFL box as well as the education box.

Pro day “was a great day for Duke,” Faris says, “having this many NFL scouts show up shows how our program has progressed.”

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