As the 2019-20 NFL season gets underway on Thursday, ten former Blue Devils find themselves on rosters. The Blue Zone gives you a rundown on the best of those former Duke football standouts and what to watch for this fall:
Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants
Jones was taken by the Giants with the sixth overall pick, making him the first Blue Devil to be selected in the top ten since Mike Junkin in 1987. Many critics were skeptical of the pick, due to both the talent remaining on the board as well as the fact that New York had another pick just eleven spots later. Still, as the Giants begin their succession plan for franchise signal caller Eli Manning, they are all in on Jones’ potential. The former Blue Devil showed out during preseason, throwing for 416 yards and two touchdowns on 85 percent accuracy over his 4 starts, good for an incredible 137.3 passer rating. However, Jones probably won’t see the field this Sunday against the Cowboys, barring injury or a disaster of a performance by Manning. Nonetheless, on a depleted Giants offense that is lacking star power outside of running back Saquon Barkley, Jones will likely be introduced as the starter at some point before midseason.
Jamison Crowder, WR, New York Jets
The fifth year receiver had a lackluster 2018 season for the Washington Redskins, appearing in just 9 games. He had his career-low in season receiving yards (388), receptions (29), and touchdowns (2), before signing with the Jets in free agency this offseason. His struggles were compounded by an injury in Week 5 that left him sidelined for seven weeks, and when he returned, he was forced to play with two different quarterbacks after starter Alex Smith went down with a broken leg. Crowder suffered an ankle injury in training camp, but was able to participate in the first three preseason games, where he hauled in three catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. Crowder will look to rediscover the potential he flashed in his second year, when he set career highs in all major receiving categories. He will likely benefit from improved quarterback play with Sam Darnold as Crowder suits up for the first season on a three year deal.
Joe Giles-Harris, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
After going undrafted in the 2019 NFL Draft, Giles-Harris signed with Jacksonville as a free agent. The former all-ACC performer had an impressive training camp, earning praise from head coach Doug Marrone, who was impressed by his versatility and intelligence. He showed enough to appear in all 4 preseason games, logging 14 tackles and earning a spot on the final roster. As of now, Giles-Harris finds himself listed as the 4th weakside linebacker on the depth chart. However, based on his impressive preseason and training camp, he should be able to find playing time and carve out a role on a Jaguars team looking to return to the playoffs.
Breon Borders, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Borders went undrafted out of Duke and signed with the Raiders practice squad in 2017. The North Carolina native spent time on the Bills and Texans before joining the Jaguars, getting promoted to the active roster in December 2018. He had a decent preseason, appearing in all 4 games and defending 3 passes. Borders also showed flashes during training camp, defending multiple passes and also receiving praise from Marrone. He finds himself behind one of the best cornerback duos in the league in Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, as well as solid veteran DJ Hayden. However, currently listed at third left corner, he will see several snaps. If he continues to improve, he’ll be able to stay on the active roster and work towards gaining a bigger role.
Ross Cockrell, CB, Carolina Panthers
The sixth year corner missed all of last season for the Panthers, suffering a broken left tibia and fibula during training camp. Cockrell struggled through rehab after the horrific injury, having to learn to walk again. Now, as he looks to take the field for the first time in Carolina, he will compete for a starting spot against last year’s starter James Bradberry. Cockrell’s return should bolster a defense that ranked around league average in every major team defensive category. He was an impressive pass defender in his last full season with the Steelers, snagging two interceptions, deflecting 11 passes, and logging 43 tackles. Currently, he sits second on the depth chart not only at right corner, but also at free safety, a position he has only played while at Duke. Should he stay healthy, Cockrell figures to feature heavily on a Carolina defense that desperately needs to improve to make the playoffs in a stacked NFC South.
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