Like other Duke students, Matt Daniels is looking forward to the Last Day of Classes celebration as a distraction.
Instead of needing to take the stress off impending finals, though, Daniels is anxiously anticipating the NFL Draft, a three-day event beginning Thursday. He is projected to be a potential late-round pick.
“I’ve got LDOC, that will help get my mind off [the Draft],” Daniels said. “It’s my last collegiate experience, so I’m not only dealing with college finishing but taking the next step.”
Daniels has the potential to be the first Blue Devil selected since 2000, when defensive tackle Chris Combs was selected in the sixth round. Looking past the LDOC festivities, the senior defensive back will head to his hometown of Fayetteville, Ga. to watch the Draft with his family.
He said he plans on enjoying crabs, shrimp and burgers while at home, though he will have to potentially calm his nerves with time skeet shooting or fishing.
“I’m getting pretty excited, but it hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s just about two days away, and my life is about to change,” Daniels said.
Daniels’ professional stock has been on the rise throughout his final year at Duke, in which he earned first team All-ACC honors after making 126 tackles at the safety position. At Duke’s pro timing day last month, in which Daniels and other Blue Devils had the opportunity to showcase their skills for approximately 25 professional scouts and other team representatives, he impressed with a sub-4.50 time in the 40-yard dash.
Since then, he has been meeting with the staffs of NFL teams, visiting head coaches, general managers, defensive coordinators and defensive back coaches.
“It’s kind of like you’re back in high school going on official visits,” Daniels said. “They’re just trying to see what kind of player I am, what kind of knowledge I have and if I fit into their system.”
The 6-foot-1 safety was just one of 10 Blue Devils who performed at pro timing day but is the prospect with the greatest chance of hearing his name called during the Draft.
Tight end Cooper Helfet, who had the opportunity to catch balls from Peyton Manning as the veteran NFL quarterback rehabbed from his neck surgery at Duke with head coach David Cutcliffe, also has an outside shot of being drafted. Helfet, along with the other Blue Devils at pro timing day, may aim to catch on with a professional team even though they likely will not be selected.
Daniels realizes that because so few Duke players are drafted, his potential selection has larger implications for the program.
“I think it would definitely be a big step for me and Duke,” Daniels said. “Getting drafted will open up the doors for people underneath me, letting the people in the NFL know there are people here who can play.”
But as he eagerly awaits the draft, Daniels understands the process can be a crapshoot. Regardless of whether or not he hears his name called, however, his professional aspirations remain strong.
“A lot of teams say they’re interested here or there, but when draft day rolls around things completely change. I really don’t know what to expect at all,” Daniels said. “I’m confident in my skill level. I have a place in the NFL.”