In 2016, then redshirt Duke Freshman quarterback Daniel Jones flashed a tantalizing skill set. A big, athletic, strong-armed passer, Jones’ exciting playmaking ability was evident. And of course working under head coach David Cutcliffe who groomed both Peyton and Eli Manning led to exciting thoughts of what a Blue Devils offense engineered by Jones could evolve into.
It was disappointing to not see more growth from Jones in year one to year two as a starter in 2017. In 23 more passing attempts as a sophomore, Jones’ completion percentage declined from 62.8 percent to 56.7 percent while throwing two less touchdowns and three more interceptions. His passing yards per game fell from 236 to 207.
The growth we expected last season has started to reveal itself in the early portions of 2018.
In his first two games of the season, Jones has completed 29-of-39 passes (74 percent) for 389 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions. While the statistical output has been impressive in Duke’s 2-0 start, I am encouraged primarily in two areas: deep accuracy and working progressions.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Jones has big arm that is capable of driving it to every level of the field. In terms of physical traits, Jones has exactly what the NFL is looking for. With that said, pushing the ball vertically isn’t something Jones has found success with. That is changing in 2018.
Take this rep for example. In Duke’s Week 2 win over Northwestern, Jones launched this dime over 40 yards in the air to hit WR Johnathan Lloyd perfectly in stride for a touchdown. It doesn’t take an expert to recognize the accurate throw that leads Lloyd into space and away from coverage. Also take note of how clean Jones’ mechanics, feet and rhythm within the structure of the play is. This is the stuff scouts are looking for.
That throw against Northwestern was a continuation of the vertical ball placement Jones’ showcased against Army in Week 1. On a throw that traveled over 50 yards in the air, Jones drops this ball in a bucket over the shoulder of Aaron Young to set up a short goal-to-go situation.
Later in the Army game, Jones all but clinched a Duke victory with another precisely delivered deep shot. This time Jones dropped the football perfectly over Young’s outside shoulder where he had leverage for a late touchdown.
Easing concerns about his deep accuracy early on this season, Jones has grown with working his progressions and manipulating coverage. While there have been plenty of reps where Jones’ first read was open and he hit it, there have also been examples where he helped create space for his targets and came off his first look.
On Jones’ first of three touchdown passes against Northwestern, he connected with senior receiver T.J. Rahming for a nine-yard strike. Taking advantage of the play action fake that sucks the linebackers in to clear space behind them, Jones keeps his eyes left before looking to his right where Rahming in the slot finds space over the middle and Jones puts it right on him.
From his frame and mobility to his resume and role as Cutcliffe’s understudy, Jones is firmly on the NFL’s radar. The key for him to maximize his draft stock moving forward is continuing to grow as a passer and illustrate consistency.
Jones was and overlooked recruit coming out of High School and his only interest came from Charlotte, along with Ivy League schools Yale, Princeton and Harvard. Jones verbally committed to Princeton before his high school coach contacted Cutcliffe to give his player a look.
The rest is history and Jones is blossoming before our eyes as a quarterback. Time will tell if Jones follows the same path as previous Cutcliffe disciples, but the way Jones has started the 2018 season provides plenty of excitement for where he is headed as an NFL prospect.