Photo: Daniel Jones
Duke’s Daniel Jones is leaving for the NFL Draft, but his announcement on Monday may have a long-term benefit. It may mean future elite quarterback talent will take a longer look at the Blue Devils.
The third-year starter that arrived from Charlotte Latin lightly recruited – he had been committed to Princeton before he flipped to the Blue Devils – can raise awareness among younger kids that Duke coach David Cutcliffe is a quarterback whisperer.
“To Coach Cutcliffe, thank you for giving me a chance to play for Duke University,” Jones said in a statement released by the university. “Your support and guidance over these four years has meant the world to me. Thank you for the role you have played in my development as both a player and as a person. I will forever be indebted to you for this opportunity.”
Cutcliffe has long enjoyed a reputation for developing quarterbacks bolstered the Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, playing for him in college and visiting with him in their NFL days for off-season training. Cutcliffe coached Peyton as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator and Eli as the head coach at Ole Miss.
But Peyton is retired and Eli’s career is fading. High school kids only know what happened in the past year – if that much.
Clemson true freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence said as much earlier in the day in a College Football Playoff media conference. The Class of 2018 5-star recruit answered a question about Clemson’s QB talent before he committed, explaining he didn’t care that he’d have to challenged a returning starting quarterback (Kelvin Bryant) and two from the Class of 2017, a 5-star (Hunter Johnson) and 4-star (Chase Brice).
That Bryant and Johnson transferred out once Lawrence emerged ahead of them isn’t the point. It is that other schools need something besides contending for the national title annual to attract the top talent. For Duke, that logically should include Cutcliffe as a quarterback whisperer in addition to the academic advantages of attending Duke. If Jones plays up to his potential, that can attract more recruits.
Cutcliffe, after turning around one of the worst programs in college football with one ACC Coastal Division title and six bowls in seven years, has landed only one 4-star commitment.
That was Jack Sears of San Clemente, Calif., in the Class of 2017, but Sears never arrived. He flipped to USC, where he spent 2017 as a redshirt freshman and 2018 backing up 5-star J.T. Daniels, who reclassified from a high school senior to a true freshman in the Class of 2018.
I asked Jones at the ACC media days why more highly recruited quarterbacks don’t consider Duke.
“I don’t think you can judge Coach Cut on where a 16- or 17-year-old kid wants to go to college,” Jones said. “People around college and the NFL know how much he is respected. But I also don’t think Coach Cut is caught up in rankings. He has much more experience and knowledge rating quarterbacks than (recruiting) websites.”
Jones can highlight his growth under Cutcliffe if he lands in the right situation. The only reason he wasn’t regarded as first-round talent beyond NFL scouts is Duke’s offensive line didn’t provide steady protection and he was the victim of dropped balls. The first-team All-ACC quarterback was N.C. State's Ryan Finley, second-team Lawrence and third-team Syracuse's Eric Dungey.
“Without a doubt, we are excited for Daniel and his decision to enter the upcoming NFL Draft and could not be happier for him and his family,” Cutcliffe said. “Daniel has been a cornerstone of our program and leaves with our full support. It has been a privilege to coach him, but the best part about Daniel is he’s an even better young man than he is a football player. The bottom line is he’s a special person and we’ll miss him greatly.”
Jones, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, has an NFL arm as well as mobility that can exploit defenses in the modern game that limits defenses.
In Duke’s 42-35 win over North Carolina, a game in which Jones had time to throw, he was 31-of-54 for 361 yards and three touchdowns with one interception and ran 15 times for 186 yards and one TD. He would have been over 400 yards if not for dropped balls, but his 547 yards total offense ranks fifth in ACC history.
He started 36 games in three years and rewrote the record book completing 764 of 1,275 (.599) passes for 8,201 yards with 52 touchdowns and 29 interceptions while rushing 406 times for 1,323 yards and 17 scores.
For 2018, despite being out two games and a bye week with a broken (non-throwing) collarbone, he finished with 237 of 392 (.605) passes for 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing for 319 yards and three TDs on 104 attempts.
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On the same day, Duke redshirt junior linebacker Joe Giles-Harris announced he also is turning pro.
“The last four years of my life have been some of the best,” he said in a university statement. “It has been a blessing and privilege to wear Duke blue and represent this great university. After much thought, I have decided to forgo my last year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft to pursue my lifelong dream of playing professional football.”
Giles-Harris earned All-ACC first-team honors the past two years, despite missing the last three regular-season games in addition to the Independence Bowl victory over Temple.
“Congratulations to Joe for putting himself in a position to continue his football career,” Cutcliffe said. “We are thrilled for him and his family as this opportunity presents itself. We could not be more appreciative of Joe’s commitment and dedication as he has represented our program both on and off the field to the highest degree. Two-time first team All-ACC linebackers don’t come around very often and while Joe will be missed, we wish him the best of luck.”
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