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Duke football quarterback Daniel Jones declares for NFL Draft, will forgo final season of eligibility

<p>Daniel Jones has led Duke to three consecutive victories against North Carolina.</p>

Daniel Jones has led Duke to three consecutive victories against North Carolina.

Known for mentoring legendary quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning, head coach David Cutcliffe could soon be adding another NFL mainstay to his resume. 

Redshirt-junior quarterback Daniel Jones announced Monday afternoon that he will forgo his senior season and declare for the 2019 NFL Draft. The three-year starter has been listed as a top-five quarterback by most NFL Draft experts and there's a chance he could surpass Laken Tomlinson—who was taken at No. 28 in the 2015 NFL Draft—as Duke's earliest selection in the last 30 years.

"After careful deliberation with family, close friends and coaches, I have decided to forgo my final year of eligibility and declare for the 2019 NFL draft," Jones said in a media release.

"Growing up in Charlotte, I watched Coach Cutcliffe transform the Duke Football program into a true force within the ACC with annual bowl eligibility and championship expectations. It became my dream to play for him and the Duke program, and these last four years have surpassed my every expectation. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to graduate from one of the most respected academic institutions in the world while growing and maturing through a football experience that taught me far more than the game itself."

Jones is coming off arguably the most impressive performance of his career in the Blue Devils' 56-27 Independence Bowl victory against Temple. The Charlotte, N.C., native completed 30-of-41 pass attempts for 423 yards, including five touchdowns in the air and a score on the ground, leading Duke back from a 13-point deficit midway through the second quarter. 

Jones also benefitted by Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert's recent decision to return to school for his senior season. Herbert likely would have been the top option under center selected in April's draft. 

Entering as a three-star grayshirt who was not guaranteed a scholarship when decided to become a  Blue Devil, the 6-foot-5 quarterback slid into the starting role for the 2016 season behind a strong scout-team performance and an Achilles injury to incumbent starter Thomas Sirk.

"Daniel has been a cornerstone of our program and leaves with our full support," Cutcliffe said. "It has been a privilege to coach him, but the best part about Daniel is he’s an even better young man than he is a football player.  The bottom line is he’s a special person and we’ll miss him greatly.”

Jones struggled to find consistency out of the gate in 2016, but found his rhythm towards the end of the season, posting a 10:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio during the final six games. Jones led Duke to bowl games in both 2017 and 2018, as the Blue Devils won back-to-back postseason contests for the first time in program history. 

Despite forgoing his senior season, Jones has already graduated with a degree in Economics after finishing his major requirements this past December. The potential first-round pick will now turn his focus towards the NFL Draft which will take place April 25-27 in Nashville, Tenn. He will be joined by fellow captain Joe Giles-Harris, who also announced Monday that he will forgo his senior season to declare for the upcoming draft.