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For A Change, Duke Fans Have Reason To Watch This Weekend’s NFL Draft

Daniel Jones has made a big impression and will go in the first round.

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Duke v Northern Illinois
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 26: Daniel Jones #17 of the Duke Blue Devils throws a first half pass while playing the Northern Illinois Huskies during the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field on December 26, 2017 in Detroit Michigan.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The National Football League held its first draft in 1936. The first pick was Jay Berwanger who had just been selected as the first Heisman Trophy winner. Berwanger played for the University of Chicago, a national power at the time but one that de-emphasized football a few years later.

This was Joe Dimaggio’s rookie year with the Yankees

In other words, a long, long time ago.

One hundred and fifty three Duke Blue Devils have been selected in the draft. George McAfee was the second pick in 1940, Steve Lach the fourth pick in 1944, Ace Parker the 13th pick in 1937. Mike McGee (1960), Mike Curtis (1965) and Bob Matheson (1967) were all picked in the top 20. Despite throwing a modest 155 passes at Duke, Sonny Jurgensen was picked 43rd in 1957, largely on the testimony of Parker, then a Duke assistant. Mike Junkin somehow went fifth in 1987.

But all of these took place long before the NFL draft became a spectator sport, long before draft experts and magazines and websites became a thing, long before an entire weekend was devoted to parsing the top-20 weak-side linebackers in the draft. Only guard Laken Tomlinson-28th in 2015--has broken into the top-100 for Duke in this century.

This makes this weekend’s draft Duke’s first high-profile NFL draft of the modern era.

Daniel Jones is the reason for this. Jones is a quarterback and he’s projected to go in Thursday’s first round.

Keep in mind this is a player who not only never made even third-team All-ACC, but wasn’t even honorable mention last year, despite passing and running for 3,000 yards in 11 games.

But Jones checks lot of boxes. He’s big, strong, mobile, strong-armed and smart, with a fierce work ethic.

Jones was named MVP of the Senior Bowl game, had a solid NFL combine at Indianapolis and a much-better than solid pro day at Duke. He said the Senior Bowl game gave him an opportunity to “separate myself, which I think is a strength of mine.”

David Cutcliffe said his phone “blew up” during Senior Bowl practices, as the NFL got up close and personal with Jones.

And even with the additions of Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins, this is considered a mediocre crop of quarterbacks in a universe where lots of teams need quarterbacks.

Jones also was a lightly-recruited prepster, who was all set to go to Princeton before Duke called. Without putting too fine a point on it, helping get Jones into the first round will give David Cutcliffe a compelling narrative to promote on the recruiting trail.

Jones is a Charlotte native and grew up as a huge Panthers fan. But they aren’t in the market for a quarterback in this year’s draft. Lots of buzz concerns the New York Giants, who pick sixth and 20th and are looking for someone to eventually take over for Eli Manning, Cutcliffe’s former Ole Miss star.

“They’re not going to tell you anything definitive,” Cutcliffe says of the NFL. “They’ve all seen him at the combines.”

Cutcliffe praises Jones’ humility, focus, refusal to be distracted, passion for learning.

“He’s comparable to the Mannings. He’s big, he’s intelligent, he’s got a terrific arm. His accuracy level is extremely high. His work ethic and commitment to excellence is right along those same lines.”

Cutcliffe adds that Jones lasting past the first round would mean that someone has made a big mistake.

Jones isn’t Duke’s only likely draft selection. I’ve seen linebacker Joe Giles-Harris listed anywhere from second round to undrafted. Giles-Harris lacks elite size and quickness but his intelligence, energy, and tackling ability probably will result in something around the fifth round.

Kansas City and San Francisco are two teams mentioned in connection with Giles-Harris.

Tight end Daniel Helm is a maybe. If not selected, he would join fellow tight end Davis Koppenhaver, wide receivers T.J. Rahming, Johnathan Lloyd and Chris Taylor and offensive tackle Christian Harris on the list of undrafted free agents looking for a landing spot. Lucas Patrick, Cooper Helfet and Juwan Thompson are recent Duke grads who have made an NFL roster as UFAs.

The draft lasts three nights, round one on Thursday, rounds two and three on Friday, four through seven on Saturday.

And there are reasons for Duke fans to watch and root.

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