Just a day after he was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, former Blue Devil cornerback Ross Cockrell said the horizon is only getting brighter for Duke football in the NFL.
Cockrell—the team's lone draft pick in 2014 and the earliest Blue Devil drafted in 15 years—said he expects Duke to have multiple draft picks a year from now and that some could go higher than he did.
"I think next year it's going to be even better," Cockrell said. "There's going to be more guys drafted and they're going to be drafted earlier."
Fresh off an ACC Coastal Division title, the 2014 Blue Devils will take the field brimming with senior talent and NFL hopefuls. Cockrell identified wide receiver Jamison Crowder and guard Laken Tomlinson as two players who could supplant him as Duke's earliest draft picks in the 21st century.
"You have to start off with Laken and Jamison," he said. "Those guys are going to be the head of the class, if they stay healthy."
Other players Cockrell identified as NFL prospects included quarterback Anthony Boone, running back Josh Snead, tight end Braxton Deaver, tackle Takoby Cofield and linebackers Kelby Brown and David Helton.
Cockrell added that as Duke continues to solidify itself as a winning program on Saturdays, more Blue Devils will find their way to playing on Sundays.
"They may not all get drafted, but you're going to have a bunch of guys getting look at by NFL teams and building the Duke football brand in the NFL."
A way-too-early look at Duke's 2015 NFL Draft hopefuls: Wide receiver Jamison Crowder (Sr., 5'9", 175 lbs.) Will assert himself as one of the ACC's most explosive weapons as a senior. Could have been drafted this year after setting the conference's single-season receptions record but decided to return for his final season.
Offensive guard Laken Tomlinson (RSr., 6'3", 320 lbs.) Has the combination of size and athleticism that NFL teams want. Will graduate from Duke as a four-year starter and has led an impressive offensive line group during that stretch.
Linebacker Kelby Brown (RSr., 6'2", 230 lbs.) Earned freshman All-America honors before injuries forced him off the gridiron. Bounced back with a strong junior season, racking up 114 tackles. Demonstrates strong leadership qualities.
Running back Josh Snead (RSr., 5'9", 170 lbs.) Has the combination of breakaway speed and pass-catching ability out of the backfield that teams have come to covet in the late rounds in recent years. With the graduation of Juwan Thompson and suspension of Jela Duncan will have more opportunities as a featured back as a senior.
Tight end Braxton Deaver (RSr., 6'5", 240 lbs.) Quietly successful 39 catch season in 2013. Has the size and athleticism NFL teams want at tight end. Will look to work on blocking in final collegiate season.
Quarterback Anthony Boone (RSr., 6', 230 lbs.) Struggled through injuries in first year as a starter and split time under center, but became first signal-caller in Duke history to win first 10 starts. Will need to improve on 13-touchdown, 13-interception season but has history on his side. David Cutcliffe has had seven straight starting quarterbacks reach the NFL, dating all the way back to his days at Tennessee in the late 1990s.
Safety Jeremy Cash (RJr., 6'2", 210 lbs.) Breakout year in first Duke season. Will be interesting to watch in 2014. Duke's top defensive playmaker could be the team's strongest candidate to declare early for the draft if he replicates last season's success.
Others to watch: Tackle Takoby Cofield, linebacker David Helton, defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson