Can Duke quarterback Daniel Jones play NFL ball in New York?
Technically, Duke has never had a quarterback taken in the first round of the primary portion of the NFL draft.
Dave Brown went in the first round of the supplemental draft in 1992. If you want go way back, a football-purist argument can be made for “single wing” halfback George McAfee as the No. 2 overall pick in 1940.
Other than that, Duke’s Daniel Jones is potentially staring at history. The fourth-year junior from Charlotte will be in Nashville on Thursday night for the first round of the NFL draft.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe will be there with him. Jones, a three-year starter for the Blue Devils, is projected to be one of the first quarterbacks to go off the board.
Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins are generally rated as the top two quarterbacks in the draft. Jones and Missouri’s Drew Lock are considered the next two.
Jones could hear his name on Thursday or early on Friday in the second round. Either way, the 6-foot-5, 221-pounder is poised to be Duke’s first draft pick since 2015.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Cutcliffe said. “If he doesn’t go the first day, I’ll go strongly enough out there to say somebody made a big mistake.”
Jones had a standout junior season in 2018, leading the Blue Devils to an 8-5 record and second straight bowl win. He completed 237 of 392 passes (60.5 percent) for 2,674 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
He also ran for 319 yards and three touchdowns, despite missing two games with a broken collarbone.
In three years at Duke, he threw for 8,209 yards with 52 TD passes (and 29 interceptions) and 17 rushing TDs.
If pre-draft logic (perhaps an oxymoron) holds, the New York Giants could use one of their early picks on Jones.
One of Cutcliffe’s star pupils, Eli Manning, is the current Giants quarterback. Jones has had the chance to interact with Manning, and his receivers, while they were on campus for offseason workouts.
“I got to ask some questions but I didn’t want to get in the way of what he was doing,” Jones said. “We definitely talked about things he was working on, things he was working through, things he articulated.”
Jones just might wind up with Manning as his mentor. The Giants have two picks in the top 20 (No. 6 and No. 17) and an early pick in the second round (No. 37).
Cutcliffe said he has talked to “numerous teams” about Jones but the topic of joining Manning in New York has come up.
Not every quarterback is cut out to play in the New York media market but Cutcliffe believes Jones has the mental makeup to handle the task.
“We had that conversation,” Cutcliffe said. “I wanted him to clearly understand what that meant if it happens.”
That means being able to handle the hype and expectations. One of Jones’ strengths, Cutcliffe said, is his ability to stay focused.
“I have a firm belief, particularly at quarterback, nothing is ever as good as it seems and nothing is ever as bad as it seems,” Cutcliffe said. “If you can understand that and live that, you’re going to be fine in any of those (NFL) environments.”
Humility is another trait Cutcliffe believes will serve Jones well in the NFL.
“He embraces something we believe here — real swag is no swag,” Cutcliffe said. “You don’t have to let people know that you’re good.”
Jones was about as far from a “can’t-miss” recruit as you can be out of Charlotte Latin. He was actually headed to Princeton before his high school coach, Larry McNulty, called Cutcliffe in the spring of 2015 and asked him to look at his tape.
McNulty asked Cutcliffe what he thought. Cutcliffe, a noted quarterback guru, wanted to know how many other schools McNulty had called.
“Don’t call anyone else,” Cutcliffe told him.
Cutcliffe liked Jones but did not have available scholarship to offer. Jones agreed to join the Blue Devils as a walk-on but a scholarship came open in August by the time practice started.
The move worked out for everyone. Cutcliffe has coached two quarterbacks to make the NFL from Duke (Thad Lewis and Sean Renfree) but he didn’t recruit either one of them.
Eli Manning, whom he coached at Ole Miss, was Cutcliffe’s last quarterback to be picked in the first round in 2004. Cutcliffe also mentored Peyton Manning, the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft, at Tennessee.
The Manning brothers, with four Super Bowl titles between, obviously have their own place in NFL history but Cutcliffe does see some of the same qualities in Jones.
“He’s comparable to the Mannings,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s big, he’s intelligent, he’s got a terrific arm, his accuracy level is extremely high and his work ethic and commitment to excellence is right along those same lines.”