Sports

The better Duke QB Daniel Jones plays, the more likely it is the Blue Devils will lose him

With scouts from nine NFL teams at Duke’s home game against UNC, Blue Devils’ quarterback Daniel Jones picked a perfect day to have one of the best performances of his college career.

On Nov. 10, Jones’ 547 combined passing and rushing yards helped the Blue Devils beat rival North Carolina 42-35.

Those stats also helped boost his NFL stock if he decides to give up his final year of college eligibility and enter the 2019 draft.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper listed Jones at No. 18 overall on his list of draft prospects, meaning the redshirt junior quarterback is a strong candidate to be a first-round pick.

CBSsports.com draft analyst Chris Trapasso wrote on Monday that Jones is the No. 4 quarterback in the draft and on the rise. Missouri’s Drew Lock, N.C. State’s Ryan Finley and Oregon’s Justin Herbert are the top three on his list. CBS posted a mock draft on Tuesday that has Jones going No. 18 overall to Miami.

Jones has yet to make a decision on whether or not he’ll turn pro a year early. He said Tuesday he’s set to finish his economics degree in December, which would allow him to spend the spring focused solely on draft prep should be declare.

In the meantime, he said he’s doing his best to compartmentalize his thoughts about the current season, his classwork and his NFL future.

“We certainly have a lot going on,” Jones said. I’m pretty busy day to day preparing for this week and my school work. I don’t think that’s a huge distraction for me because I’m kind of focused on what I’m doing here and making sure that we finish this year strong.”

On a conference call with reporters this week, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said he’s talked with Jones about the growing talk of him entering the NFL draft. Cutcliffe has been through similar situations with other players -- most notably Peyton and Eli Manning -- so the coach has a plan for Jones.

“He should be drawing a lot of attention, because he’s legitimately that type of player and person,” Cutcliffe said of Jones. “We’ve already had a little conversation. ...I’ve just tried to help he and his father both, because I’ve been through it so often, just as to what to expect, and here’s the thought process that you need to put into it, and you need to learn that you don’t listen to noise; you need to evaluate your information clearly from the league.”

That process of gathering information from the NFL will begin once the regular season ends, Cutcliffe said. Duke (7-3, 3-3 ACC) plays at No. 2 Clemson on Saturday and plays its final home game on Nov. 24 against Wake Forest.

The site, date and opponent for Duke’s bowl game will be announced on Dec. 2.

But Cutcliffe won’t wait that long to start helping Jones and his family with the decision.

“We’ll get to that pretty quickly, once we finish next week,” Cutcliffe said. “...He has been incredibly focused and will be. ... He would never let himself get distracted. I’ve been very pleased with that part of it.”

Duke’s game against Clemson on Saturday gives scouts an opportunity to measure Jones against top draft talent. Clemson’s defense features projected first-round picks in defensive end Clelin Ferrell, cornerback Trayvon Mullen and defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins.

“They are good,” Jones said. “You look at their four down (linemen) they are all super talented, capable of rushing the passer and stopping the run. It starts there.”

On the ACC conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney admitted he hadn’t watched much film of Jones prior to this week because the Blue Devils and Tigers rarely play. Saturday night’s game will be Duke’s first against Clemson since 2012 and the Blue Devils’ first game at Clemson since 2008.

But Swinney has seen enough this week to know why NFL will be eager to draft Jones should he leave school early.

“As I watched him, man, oh man, not only is he going to be a pro, he’s going to be a high pick,” Swinney said. “This guy can flat out play, incredible presence in the pocket. He’s big and strong. He can fly. You know, he just pulls away from people. He rushed for 180 yards last week and can make every throw. He makes some really, really tight throws against contested coverage. And I can’t imagine that he’s not going to be one of the top quarterbacks to be drafted.”

Duke at Clemson

When: 7 p.m., Saturday

Where: Clemson Memorial Stadium, Clemson, SC

TV: ESPN

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