There are some holes to fill for Duke this season, but QB is not one of them. Daniel Jones enters his third season as the starter for Duke. I am a huge fan of Jones. Last season, I expected him to build upon some of the terrific games he had as a rFR in 2016, but I ended up coming away disappointed. Here is a look at his productivity by season:
2016: 270 of 430 (62.8%) for 2,836 yards (6.6 Y/A) 16 TD and 9 INT, 141-486-7 rushing
2017: 257 of 453 (56.7%) for 2,691 yards (5.9 Y/A) 14 TD and 11 INT, 161-518-7 rushing
Jones is extremely intelligent and shows it with his ability to diagnose and make pre-snap reads. Unfortunately, the level of offensive talent Duke has relative to many of the elite defenses they face in the ACC makes sustained success about as challenging as boxing Floyd Mayweather with one hand tied behind your back. At 6’5” and 215 pounds, Jones is surprisingly mobile, and his CFF value is greatly increased by his ability to score with his legs. The nature of the offense keeps the yards per attempt number very modest, but there is also room for Jones to improve his deep ball and for his wide receivers to be more dynamic after the catch and on 50/50 balls. The offensive line has to replace three starters from last year, which could actually be addition by subtraction. In 2017, Jones was the overall CFF QB29, and I think it’s very reasonable to expect those numbers increase this season. He is one of my favorite QBs for Devy purposes and while he was technically eligible for the NFL in this current draft class; I believe he will play at Duke for two more years and leave one of the most experienced and highly valued players in the 2020 class.
The Blue Devils will need to cope with the loss of Shaun Wilson but will have a talented duo that will look to improve upon modest rushing numbers in 2017. Brittain Brown was a rFR last season and finished with 130-701-7 rushing. He will be an NFL back and one of the better players that Duke’s had at the position in a number of years. Here is an excerpt from goduke.com that talks about his development and who else may be a factor this season:
“We’re trying to take his game to the next level,” running backs coach Re’quan Boyette said of Brown. “He is unique because he has played only one year. He’s still very, very young in this process. The question is how much better can he be in his details? He should be able to play at a high level. We call it our PhD level. He should be able to take everything in his game from the playbook, to the details, to the fundamentals to the next level.”
This year, the Blue Devils return running backs Marvin Hubbard III, Deon Jackson, Nicodem Pierre, Elijah Deveaux, Griffin Carter and Ryan Wolitzer.”
The player that I believe will share the bulk of the duties with him is Deon Jackson. He was a TrFR last season that got very little work but has a lot of talent. Running backs are asked to contribute in the passing game in this offense and they accounted for 54-408-4 last season. In general, there aren’t a ton of really productive backs for CFF in this offense. Having a big, mobile QB like Jones takes away from their rushing market share and they also rarely eclipse the 150 carry mark in a season.
The WR group was not good last season. I’m not a snob about receivers needing to be big, but I also have some concerns when the only dependable WR you have is 5’10 and 165 pounds. T.J. Rahming is that guy, and I see him more as a complementary piece than a guy you want to have nearly twice as many catches as your second-leading receiver. He is a good player and valuable in full PPR CFF formats, but they will need others to step up this season as well. Here is another excerpt from goduke.com talking about Rahming as well as their phenomenal DB, Mark Gilbert, who covers him in practice:
“We’re looking for him to be more vocal,” Parker said of the goals for Rahming this spring. “He’s never going to be as vocal as [Johnathan] Lloyd or me, but that’s OK. That part will grow for T.J. The other part is that he has to catch more touchdowns. The big push for the room, and T.J., is that production is great, catches are great, but the most important stat we have is touchdowns. We have to get him in the end zone more. I think he knows that.”
“Production should go up for both guys,” wide receivers coach Gerad Parker said of watching wide receiver T.J. Rahming go against cornerback Mark Gilbert daily. “Both of those guys have a chance to play at the next level. Mark Gilbert is special. There’s no doubt about it. If T.J.’s production rises against Mark, we sure hope that equates to later on in the spring and next fall. It’s the same thing for all of our offensive guys going against the defensive guys.”
Johnathan Lloyd and Chris Taylor were the WR2 and WR3 last season but neither had fantasy relevance. rSO Scott Bracey is 6’2” and 210 pounds and really needs to step up for this offense. rJR Keyston Fuller has been valuable on the aforementioned 50/50 balls so far this spring. There are three TE that accounted for an impressive 44-452-7 receiving in 2017. The problem for CFF purposes is that is split between three players so it makes the position group less valuable. Davis Koppenhaver and Daniel Helm comprise the majority of that trio and are both good football players.
While the offense lacks next level players, the defense has plenty to offset that. On the defensive line I really like JR Trey Hornbuckle and SO Victor Dimukeje was very good last season as a TrFR. Ben Humphreys is a veteran at LB and he is joined by one of the conference’s best LBs in JR Joe Giles-Harris. In the secondary, Brandon Feamster is a long, athletic player and he will be alongside two of my favorites in SR S Jeremy McDuffie and JR CB Mark Gilbert. I recently had some fun and attempted to predict next year’s first round of the NFL Draft and I included both Joe Giles-Harris and Mark Gilbert amongst that group. I really like this defense.