MOBILE, Ala. -- The Manning family carries a lot of weight in football. The Cutcliffe name does the same in the Manning household. Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, who is participating in this week’s Senior Bowl, has a reverence for both.
Before taking over as head coach of the Blue Devils in 2008, David Cutcliffe helped mentor Eli and Peyton Manning, two former SEC Players of the Year who went on to be drafted No. 1 overall in their respective classes. With Eli, he was the Ole Miss head coach. With Peyton, he was the assistant head coach and ran the offense at Tennessee. So it wasn’t uncommon for Cutcliffe to pull up the brothers’ tape and show it to Jones during his tenure at Duke, where he threw 52 touchdowns and ran for 17 more in 36 career games.
“We watch a lot of film on those guys, a lot of technique stuff,” Jones said. “The offense has changed a little bit since his days with Peyton and Eli, but we will occasionally watch an Ole Miss clip or something for our install. But a lot of technique, you watch those guys, particularly Peyton, you think about Peyton’s fakes or something like that. It’s something we’ll watch a good bit.”
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Jones is ranked No. 24 in Daniel Jeremiah’s top prospects list on NFL.com. He is the third quarterback behind Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and Missouri’s Drew Lock, who is also in Mobile this week for the combine. Jones capped his collegiate career with a record-setting bowl performance. He threw for 423 yards and five touchdowns, both Independence Bowl records. So was Duke’s point total in a 56-27 victory over Temple. It was Cutliffe’s first Independence Bowl victory since Eli led Ole Miss to a win over Nebraska as a junior in 2002.
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“I think what he expects his quarterbacks to do, the responsibility that he puts on his quarterbacks to manage the offense, I think he’s been very helpful to me in understanding the game,” Jones said, “and kind of managing the game and playing the position and kind of what the quarterback is expected to do in all aspects of the game.”
The Jones-Manning connection goes beyond their distinguished former coach. Jones, like so many of the top college quarterbacks, was a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana. He also saw Eli when the two-time Super Bowl MVP would annually gather his Giants receivers for offseason workouts at Duke.
“I got to interact with them a little bit,” Jones said. “I got to sit in on one of Eli’s meetings and kind of just talked to him walking through the building. Peyton was down there also this past year.”
Jones added: “Being around those guys, watching Eli work out and lead those workouts and meetings and that type of thing is really cool also. So just those relationships and over the years being able to watch those guys is special.”
Jones, a three-year letterman at Charlotte (N.C.) Latin High School who helped his team to two state championship game appearances, originally committed to Princeton after his junior year. Then Cutcliffe and Duke came calling, and Jones couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play at his “dream school.” Now he is in position to join the NFL and feels prepared after playing in a pro-style system.
Jeremiah wrote the following in his scouting report: “Jones has outstanding size for the position (6-5, 220). He is always under control and throws from a firm platform. As a passer, he relies more on touch than power. He throws with anticipation underneath and puts plenty of loft on deep balls, dropping them in the bucket. He's more accurate than his stats would suggest (career completion percentage of 59.9); Jones suffered from a lot of dropped passes at Duke. He's very athletic on designed QB runs, but lacks urgency to consistently escape when pressured. He has shown the ability to read the full field, but was forced to hold the ball at times because his weapons failed to separate. He showed his toughness by playing through injuries this past fall. Overall, Jones lacks elite arm strength, but he has a nice blend of size, toughness and football smarts.”
Of course, there is the possibility that Jones could follow in Eli’s footsteps with the Giants, who hold the No. 6 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Eli admitted near the end of the season that “when you get to year 15, these things come up.” He was referring to the uncertainty of his future with the organization. Jones would relish the opportunity to learn from him in an NFL setting.
“I think that would be a huge opportunity for me to learn from one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it,” Jones said. “I think he’s obviously proven how great he is, and over the course (of his career) he’s achieved a whole lot. So to be able to learn from him and observe his daily routine, his practice habits, his preparation in kind of all areas of the game would be I think a huge opportunity for my growth and development.”
Whoever comes next – and whenever it happens – will always be compared to Eli. Jones knows all about the Manning shadow.
“I always saw it just that it was cool to know and kind of have perspective on what Peyton or Eli was like when they were a freshman in college or something like when Coach Cut said, ‘Peyton would have done this,’” Jones said. “I think that’s just kind of cool to me and was kind of always a challenge to see if Coach Cut can compare you to Peyton in a positive light. Hearing from their experiences through Coach Cut was always cool for me.”
Being a quarterback in the NFL, however, is more than just making the throws. It is equal parts tangibles and intangibles.
“I’ve never been a real rah-rah guy or someone who’s going to take that approach to it,” Jones said. “Maybe that makes me more of a lead-by-example guy, but I try to come from a place of service and humility and prove to your teammates that you’re willing to do what needs to be done for them first, put them first. I think proving to your teammates that you’re committed to the team and that you’re willing to do whatever it takes, the preparation, that’s the most important thing to you. … Once you do that and your teammates trust you and trust that you care about them I think most of the time you will be respected. And I think that’s the most effective way to lead.”