It’s back! For the third straight year, the N&O will count down the top 10 most important Duke football players for the upcoming season. Most important isn’t necessarily the best, but it’s a combination of individual skill, depth at a position and cruciality to success.
Duke football is currently on an unprecedented run of success, going bowling three straight years and winning 19 games over the past two seasons. And the schedule is favorable again this year, thanks in large part to divisional crossover games with Boston College and Wake Forest.
No. 4: Tight End Braxton Deaver
Age: Redshirt senior (sixth year)
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Last year’s stats: Did not play – tore right ACL in training camp
First-year starting quarterback Thomas Sirk, who has attempted a grand total of 14 passes in his college career, is going to need reliable targets. Deaver is a strong bet to develop into a security blanket.
Deaver has size (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) and experience. No other passing game target on the Blue Devils’ roster has more career receiving yards (707) than Deaver. In 2013, when the Blue Devils won 10 games and the Coastal Division, Deaver caught 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns, numbers that earned him third-team all-ACC recognition (the two tight ends ahead of him, North Carolina’s Eric Ebron and Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, are off in the NFL). A productive year this season could land Deaver on an NFL roster as well.
While head coach David Cutcliffe will (undoubtedly) profess faith in Sirk’s strong arm and ability to throw the deep ball at the upcoming ACC media days, in reality, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery will probably dial up more short-to-medium length throws to get him up to speed. Deaver can be option A in that area of the field.
Something else Deaver, unfortunately, has experience with: injuries. In his five previous years at Duke, two were totally wiped out by injuries (and another, his first, was a redshirt year). Deaver has had two surgeries on his left knee (Aug. 2014 and Jan. 2012) as well as two other surgeries to repair a broken left thumb (June 2012) and left kneecap (July 2012). When Deaver was lost last year, so was most of the production from the tight end position – his three replacements combined for just 20 catches for 127 yards and four touchdowns. And all three will serve as his backups again this year. So keeping him on the field this year will be critical for the passing game.
Previously in this series: