All eyes were on Matt Daniels as he took the field with nine other Blue Devils Thursday afternoon to work out for NFL scouts and coaches at the Duke pro timing day.
Daniels, a 6-foot-1 senior safety, is expected to be Duke’s first football player taken in the NFL Draft since defensive tackle Chris Combs was taken in the sixth round in 2000. He worked out in front of about 25 scouts and coaches, including representatives from both the NFL and the Canadian Football League.
“Scouts love me,” Daniels said. “I’ll definitely be getting drafted.”
Daniels earned first team All-ACC honors in 2011 after recording 126 tackles, 14 pass break-ups and two interceptions in first-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ 4-2-5 scheme, which allowed the senior more freedom within the defense. Beginning in January, the Fayetteville, Ga. native spent five days a week in Duluth, Ga. this spring training with Competitive Edge Sports and the other two days in Durham attending class.
He is projected to be a late-round pick, though his stock is improving after gaining 10 pounds already this spring while adding more speed, dropping his 40-yard dash time from 4.47 seconds—a time head coach David Cutcliffe called “faster than 80 percent of what was at the [NFL Combine]”—to 4.40. He met with representatives from the New England Patriots and New York Jets Thursday, and has meetings with other NFL franchises scheduled.
“He will blow you up,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “He is a great tackler. Defense is still not all that complicated.... The more physical you are, the more impact you have.”
Daniels added that his “conditioning was a little off,” but he expects it to improve as he alters his training over the coming weeks.
Cooper Helfet, who played at Duke for only two years after starting his collegiate athletic career at Johns Hopkins as a lacrosse player, is a considered a long shot to hear his name called on draft day. But while he has limited experience, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end was presented with a unique opportunity during his spring workouts—catching passes from NFL quarterback Peyton Manning. After Helfet graduated in December, Cutcliffe paired him up with Manning as the quarterback began his rehab from neck surgery.
“He definitely had positive things to say,” Helfet said. “He said he would be there as a reference for me, which is one of the best references you can have.”
Helfet ranked third on the team in 2011 with 395 receiving yards on 43 catches, earning honorable mention All-ACC honors.
Running back Jay Hollingsworth, tight end Danny Parker and wide receivers Donovan Varner and 2011 graduate Austin Kelly also worked out on the offensive side of the ball. Kelly was one of three Blue Devils who are still looking to catch on in the NFL after going undrafted last season. The league’s lockout limited the chances the trio had of signing with NFL franchises because team officials could not make contact with potential free agents for much of the spring and summer.
Cornerback Johnny Williams joined Daniels among the four Blue Devils to work out on the defensive side of the ball. The senior converted to cornerback before the 2010 season after tallying over 700 combined receiving yards in his first two years.
At the end of the workout, 2010 Lou Groza Award semifinalist Will Snyderwine took the field. His workout was highlighted by several booming kickoffs that reached the Brooks Football Building—standing approximately 10 yards beyond the end zone—on the fly.
The Blue Devils have one month left to train before the NFL Draft, which will be held Apr. 26-28 in New York City.
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