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. 1: Safety/Return specialist DeVon Edwards
Age: Redshirt Junior
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Last year’s stats: Honorable mention all-American return specialist, honorable mention all-ACC safety, 33 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, five caused fumbles and one interception; returned 29 kickoffs for 745 yards (25.7 yard average ) and one touchdown
DeVon Edwards is the one playmaker the Blue Devils have that can make an impact on multiple phases of the game—defense and special teams, in this instance. No one on last year’s team played more snaps than Edwards (1,068).
His kickoff return prowess has the ability to change the game—remember the 2013 victory against N.C. State, when he ran a kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown (in addition to his back-to-back, pick-six interception returns for touchdowns). Even last year, with teams purposely kicking away from him, he took one back for a critical score in Duke’s double-overtime win at Pittsburgh. He is in the mix to handle punt return duties this fall, too.
Edwards, though, is more than just a flashy special teams player. He’s an all-ACC caliber safety, an integral cog in Duke’s defensive backfield. The Blue Devils are counting on that unit to be one of the best in the ACC, and they will need to be to make up for what is expected to be an average, at best, pass rush up front. Edwards finished last year strong, averaging 13.50 tackles over the final four games of the year, which included a strong performance against Arizona State in the Sun Bowl loss (14 tackles along with one sack and one caused fumble, along with 135 kickoff return yards off of five kicks).
Word around the program is that Edwards made a big jump this spring, too, so expect even more from him this fall.
Final word on the countdown: Comparing this year’s list to last year’s list, and it’s clear that this season’s team is significantly different than last year’s, at least personnel wise. Gone are the top four players from last year’s list (QB Anthony Boone, WR Jamison Crowder, LB Kelby Brown, RG Laken Tomlinson). For Duke to continue to have the same level of success—or keep building, as Cutcliffe prefers to look at it—a mix of new players and returning veterans are going to have to play larger roles.
Preseason camp starts August 5th.
Previously in this series: