You don’t win big at the power-five level without producing next-level talent. Duke’s 2013 Coastal Division champions sent to the NFL Jamison Crowder, Laken Tomlinson, Ross Cockrell, Breon Borders and Lucas Patrick, all of whom are still playing, along with guys like Jeremy Cash, Juwan Thompson and Kenny Anunike, whose NFL careers were shorter.
Still, they had one.
Recent years haven’t seen Duke replenish the NFL page in the media guide. Daniel Jones was a great success but an obvious outlier. He’s Duke’s only draft pick since Tomlinson and Crowder went in 2015.
Which brings us to March 29, Duke’s Pro Day. Seven Blue Devils will put their best faces forward prior to the draft, which begins April 29 and ends May 1.
Seven players may seem like a lot for a two-win team, but that’s another discussion.
The NFL canceled its combine this season, leaving Pro Day as the best chance for prospective NFL players to be poked and prodded, measured and tested.
These players have been working out with trainers and assorted experts.
Defensive ends Chris Rumph and Victor Dimukeje and tight end Noah Gray are appearing on a lot of mock drafts, although Rumph will likely be asked to move to linebacker.
Defensive back Michael Carter, running back Deon Jackson, cornerback Mark Gilbert and offensive lineman Devery Hamilton complete the list.
You might we wondering about the absence of offensive lineman Rakavius Chambers. Chambers has a different career goal. He’s given up football to concentrate on becoming a surgeon.
Some of this group will have to make the league as UFAs, undrafted free agents. But it can be done. Patrick was a UFA for Green Bay and he’s played 56 games for the Packers over the last four years, 21 of them starts.
The septet met virtually with the media Thursday to discuss Pro Day and their NFL aspirations.
Here are some highlights, many of which focus on versatility and special teams, both of which can be backdoor routes for UFAs.
Michael Carter has played safety and cornerback at Duke, while being a special-teams mainstay.
“Me being able to play special teams, as well as everything I did, moving around on our defense, just showcases our versatility. Being able to move around and play multiple positions is something they’re always looking for and I think I definitely can be that guy who can learn new positions and humble enough to take coaching and move around and do what’s asked of me.”
What have you been working on?
“Running the 40, every little technique, from the get-out, the start to that first 10 yards, to the next 10 to 20 and 30 and 40, 50 and 60, just working on maintaining that same level of speed all the way through.”
What 40-yard dash time does he expect to run.
“It’s going to be fast.”
Victor Dimukeje was a pass-rushing specialist as a Duke defensive end.
Where does he fit in at the next level?
“A lot of teams I’ve talked to think I can fit in as an outside linebacker or defensive end in a 3-4 scheme or a 4-3. All through my training process, I’ve worked on rushing on the inside, on the outside and then jumping back in coverage. I think I’m pretty versatile and I’m anxious to see where teams fit in.”
What have you been working on?
“Combine training, the 40s, the shuttles, changing-direction stuff, verticals, everything we’re going to do on combine day. One thing I really worked on was the 40. I think I’ve gotten better at it.”
Can you defend the run?
“I did what I had to do on film. I feel like I just have to show up on pro day and let everything handle itself, just keep working and become the best player I can be.”
Oft-injured cornerback Mark Gilbert opted out early in the season to prepare for the draft.
“Health wise, I’m a hundred percent, a hundred and ten percent.”
Confidence? “My confidence is at an all-time high. My opting out [last fall] was more of a putting health in the forefront.’
Special teams? “I feel very comfortable playing special teams at the next level. I know how important it is. We emphasize the importance of that at Duke so it won’t be a hard transition at all.”
Importance of Pro Day?
“Very important because I don’t have much tape over the last two years. Me being able to showcase that I’m 100 percent healthy, that I can run fast, that my hips are as good as they were before, if not better, is very important.”
Noah Gray is the most productive tight end in Duke history, with 105 career receptions.
“Obviously, the drills I’m going to have to do, the 40, shuttles, doing a bunch of things speed wise, getting ready for that. And then just working with trainers and integrating what I’m learning from them.”
Gray played in the Senior Bowl, opening eyes with productive practices.
“The Senior Bowl was huge for me. I’m just very blessed and thankful that [talent evaluator] Jim Nagy reached out to me, a late invite and I really appreciate the opportunity to go out and to compete against some guys who are going to have extremely successful careers in the NFL. I feel like learned a lot from Coach [Brian] Angelic of the Panthers. He was phenomenal.”
Areas of concern?
“I need to improve on every aspect of my game. There are so many small details at the next level. Every part of my game is going to be a work in progress for me. But I love it, every year in football, just getting better.”
“I believe I can be a playmaker at the next level. I want to be utilized in the best situation whatever team decides that decides to take me needs to utilize me, whether that’s special teams or as a fullback or a tight end. Whatever the case may be, I’m ready to take the next step.”
“I’m extremely comfortable with it. At Duke we really get guys who start and play a lot on offense and defense but also contribute on special teams. So, it’s been good to be immersed in that kind of culture, where we value special teams a lot, where we understand that it’s an integral part of the team and it’s something that NFL teams, with the limited roster space, will be looking at.”
Chris Rumph was an under-sized but very productive defensive end, specializing in rushing the passer. He’s bulked up to 242 “rock solid” pounds now.
Does he expect to play linebacker in the NFL?
“I’ve heard from a couple of teams, definitely a stand-up linebacker, just based off my film and my size. Just learn from the coaches, adjust to the league, get the details, the bad habits I had in college, just trying to get them ironed out to be a professional.”
Preparation for Pro Day?
“Help me build a nutrition plan, put some weight on, trying to get my technique down, prepare for the drills.”
Goals? I’ve improved every year. I don’t even think I’ve hit my peak. Any of the teams watching this right now, they’re going to get a great ballplayer, continue to develop and eventually become a hall-of-famer.”
Deon Jackson was a rotation running back, with a knack for catching passes out of the backfield. Jackson rushed for 2,267 yards at Duke and added 534 receiving yards.
How will that receiving ability help him?
“I definitely think that my style of play will help me in the draft. I feel like I’m a versatile player. My ability to run the ball, my ability to catch the ball, run routes, return kicks. I can bring a lot to a team”.
“I know how important that is, going to the NFL as a young player, especially a rookie, being able to get on the field as early as possible, doing what’s asked of you.”
Devery Hamilton started at offensive tackle at Duke, after transferring in from Stanford. But he also played guard at Stanford and practiced some at center.
“Being able to be versatile across the whole offensive line is going to be big. It was good for me this year to play 11 games at tackle. I think I got something like 800 plus snaps but also getting back to my time at Stanford, I started a year at tackle, started two years at guard, both sides. I’ll play anywhere. I haven’t started at center but I think if you give me a week to get my snap down, I think I have the football IQ to be able to call out defenses, handle whatever a center has to do.”
Current weight? “310-315. I think that’s a good weight for me. I want to continue putting on muscle, especially upper-body strength.”
What did he prove at Duke?
“The big thing for me was showing that I’m durable, so playing those 11 games, 800 plus snaps, being here, having a full season, especially given the circumstances of the past year, I think I’ve showed everything I need to show to prove to NFL teams that I’m ready and I’m a guy they should draft.”
What do NFL teams need to know about him?
“The team that chooses me at the next level is going to get a versatile defender, someone who can plug in immediately, going to be able to pick up a playbook fast and help lead a team to a winning season.”
Duke’s Pro Day can be seen on ACC Network Extra, Monday, beginning at 1:30.