As the hours wore on Saturday, it looked increasingly less likely that Duke would break its NFL draft drought.
But late in the seventh round, with the 249th overall pick, the Atlanta Falcons selected Blue Devils quarterback Sean Renfree. He is the first draft pick directly out of Duke since 2004.
Renfree, who is recovering from surgery on his right pectoralis major muscle, the biggest chest muscle, was unable to work out and throw for teams before the draft, making his selection somewhat surprising. But the ESPN crew was well prepared in case it happened.
More than two hours before Renfree was drafted, the ESPN panel was singing his praises. Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay and Bill Polian constantly referenced Renfree’s strengths, including his size, accuracy and tutelage under Duke head coach David Cutcliffe.
“He is a big, tall guy who’s got a great head on his shoulders,” Kiper said.
The television crew also brought in NFL analyst Chris Mortensen to analyze what was the sixth-to-last pick in the draft. Mortensen relayed prior conversations he had with Cutcliffe, who has compared the way Renfree prepares for a game to the preparation of Peyton and Eli Manning. Cutcliffe coached both Manning brothers at previous coaching stops at Tennessee and Ole Miss.
It’s a refrain Cutcliffe first sang after Duke’s loss to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl game, where Renfree injured his shoulder on the final pass of his collegiate career.
“Everyone is aware of Peyton and Eli’s work ethic and how hard and well they prepare. Same guy,” Cutcliffe said of Renfree then. “He has the same skills, knowledge, mental aspects of the game, same preparation. Every player on our team saw how hard he worked in the weight room, how hard he worked in the meeting rooms. He may be one of the most unsung football players in the ACC. He’s not a lot of flash. Just look at the yards he threw for, look at what he’s done in his career as a quarterback at Duke, moving this program forward.
“Anybody in the National Football League or collegiately that does not want Sean Renfree in their locker room would be out of their mind.”
May 15th is the day doctors project Renfree will be able to start throwing again.
“Obviously with Matt Ryan and Sean Renfree, it’s going to be a pretty smart quarterback room they have at the Atlanta Falcons,” Mortensen said.
Much earlier in the day, N.C. State safety Earl Wolff went to the Philadelphia Eagles with the third pick in the fifth round, No. 136 overall. Not bad for a player who only had one major offer coming out of high school.
Wolff led the Wolfpack with 119 total tackles in his senior year. He began starting in his redshirt freshman season and was, according to former coach Tom O’Brien, the heart of the Wolfpack’s defense by his senior year.
“It’s just a blessing to hear my name called,” Wolff told Eagles beat reporters on a conference call. “I feel like God does everything for a reason, so I never look at the negatives, I always look at the positives.”
New Eagles head coach Chip Kelly told reporters he liked Wolff for his versatility, a trait Wolff detailed on the call.
“I can play deep middle, I can play deep pass, I can play in the box,” he said. “I can honestly say my senior year though that I played more in the box because we had some young, inexperienced linebackers.”
Appalachian State punter/place kicker Sam Martin was also drafted in the fifth round, No. 165 overall to the Detroit Lions. His teammate, cornerback Demetrius McCray went No. 210 overall in the seventh round to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
North Carolina guard Travis Bond (No. 214 overall to the Vikings), Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon (No. 215 to the New York Jets) and Elon wide receiver Aaron Mellette (No. 238 to the Baltimore Ravens) were also drafted in the seventh round.
Mellette was the Phoenix’s first draft pick since 2007 and the school’s second in 21 years. And for the first time since the inception of the common draft in 1967, the Tar Heels had three offensive lineman taken.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley