David Cutcliffe has been through enough of these to know the drill by know. Heath Shuler in 1994, Peyton Manning in 1998, Eli Manning in 2004; there’s an ingredient list synonymous with a quarterback who teams are most likely going to risk a first-round pick on.
A day after Daniel Jones’s pro day in Durham, with a slew of private workouts and meetings coming up (Cutcliffe expected teams in town as soon as Thursday), Cutcliffe did not hesitate when I asked him the question.
You have an idea of how these guys project out. Is Daniel, in your mind, going to be a first-round pick?
“Absolutely,” Cutcliffe said from his office on Thursday morning. “I can’t imagine there’s someone out there more equipped, top to bottom, in this draft or in the next draft if he had stayed, than he is to be an NFL quarterback. A starter. A star. People that evaluate a lot of this don’t know it. They haven’t seen every one-on-one drill… seven-on-seven. They haven’t seen those things. I have. And yeah, he is [a first-round pick], he’s going to follow in those footsteps if he stays healthy.”
Take that for what it’s worth—Area Coach Believes His Player Is Good. College coaches usually don’t bury their prospects ahead of the most important job interviews of their lives, but they also don’t want to set unrealistic expectations, either.
Jones, the 6′ 5″, 221-pound redshirt junior, who capped his final season at Duke going 237-of-392 for 2,674 yards, 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions, is not as often discussed with a list of quarterbacks believed to have first-round potential in this year’s draft. But if there is any draft that could contain a major surprise from a perceived outsider, this could be it (SI’s latest mock draft, for what it’s worth, has Jones in the first).
The nebulous class—led right now by the consensus thought that Kyler Murray will go with the first overall pick to the Arizona Cardinals (but will he?), and Drew Lock and Dwayne Haskins will filter in behind him—may be one of the most uncertain over the last decade in terms of scouts’ wide-open opinions of where they’ll land. Jones represents a bit of an alternative: a sturdy, prototypical 6′ 5″ frame playing in a spread offense with pro influences.
Cutcliffe said that he expected questions about Jones’s deep-ball arm strength, even though it was a point of emphasis this year (according to Sports Info Solutions analytics, 2018 was Jones’s best year throwing deep, and his best year in terms of average throw depth). He thought the pro day, which Jones orchestrated with his teammates, went a long way toward alleviating those concerns.
He said he also remembered getting similar questions about Peyton Manning.
“I’ll tell you this, I was almost blown away at his pro day, he was awesome,” Cutcliffe said. “You can’t throw it better. You can’t command the group better. They’ve been working together on their own, but they look like a good football team. You’ve got to remember, Daniel took all of this on himself. It was just beautifully done.”