Sean Renfree is Duke’s first NFL Draft selection since tackle Drew Strojny was selected in 2004.
Thanh-Ha Nguyen / Chronicle File Photo
Sean Renfree is Duke’s first NFL Draft selection since tackle Drew Strojny was selected in 2004.

Coming off a surgery that prevented him from participating in pre-draft workouts, Sean Renfree wasn’t expecting to get drafted. As the NFL Draft’s seventh and final round rolled around, he was already fielding calls from teams that were looking to sign him as an undrafted free agent.

But with just six picks to go came one final call from Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who informed the quarterback he was the 249th overall selection in the draft. Renfree had become Duke’s first NFL Draft selection in nine years. 

“I was ecstatic. When I heard that the Atlanta Falcons had made me their final selection, it was really a surreal moment,” Renfree said. “I’ve always had a dream of playing in the NFL. I know being drafted and playing are two different things, but it’s a step towards that goal.”

Renfree will now not only have the opportunity to learn from starting quarterback Matt Ryan, but also to compete with Dominique Davis for the backup quarterback job from day one. Davis has yet to throw an NFL pass in one season of experience. The East Carolina alum was signed as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft.

“Obviously, Matt is considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. He’s had great success, and he’s a proven winner. So to be behind a guy like that and learn from him will be very valuable for me,” Renfree said. “I just want to be healthy at this point so I can compete for that job. It will be a great opportunity and a challenge for me.”

Before Renfree sets his eyes on making the Falcons, he must complete his rehab and get back on the football field. Renfree had surgery to repair his torn pectoral muscle the day after Duke’s Belk Bowl loss to Cincinnati. Until recently, he had not thrown a football in nearly four months.

Unable to work out for scouts or participate in the NFL Scouting Combine, Renfree’s draft stock was kept afloat from the ringing endorsements he received from head coach David Cutcliffe and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

“I’ve said it before—I think Sean Renfree is the most accurate passer in this year’s draft class,” Cutcliffe said in a press release. “A career completion percentage of nearly 65 percent for a major college quarterback is exceptional, and in Sean’s case, that happened for a reason because of his skill level, mental toughness and preparation.”

Renfree continues to throw every other day and hopes he will be able to participate in some capacity during the Falcons’ annual rookie camp, which will take place in two weeks.

Cutcliffe has never had any shortage of praise when it comes to his quarterback of five years, who was one of the first players he ever recruited to Duke.

“The Atlanta Falcons are getting a young man who will have a positive impact on the field, in the film room, in the locker room and in the community—he’s just that type of special person,” Cutcliffe said. “Today, Sean realizes a dream that so many boys have at an early age, and no one is more deserving.” 

Renfree’s long-time friend and teammate, wide receiver Conner Vernon, was anticipated to be selected sometime on the day three of the draft. The ACC’s all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards was expected to be taken as high as the fifth round, but when the dust settled Saturday evening, Vernon’s name had not been called.

But it did not take long for Vernon to find a home in the NFL. The Miami native signed a contract with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent less than two hours after the Draft had ended.

“I was surprised. I think we all were. Everybody expected Conner to get selected,” Renfree said. “He’s going to be completely fine, just because of the caliber of player that he is. Lots of guys—Matt Daniels, Thaddeus Lewis and Vinny Rey—played at Duke and weren’t drafted but they’re still on teams now because they’re good players. Everybody knows Conner is a competitor and a great player.”

The Raiders boast a thin and inexperienced receiving corps, and Vernon should have an opportunity to make the team in training camp. Oakland also spent its seventh round selection, 203rd overall, on San Diego State wide receiver Brice Butler.

“Over the past four years, I’ve had the privilege to watch Conner grow as both a young man and football player,” Cutcliffe said in a press release. “Conner has an opportunity to be an asset to the Oakland Raiders because of his desire to compete and be the best football player he can possibly be.”