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A look at where Duke football's NFL prospects could fit best ahead of the 2021 draft

<p>Noah Gray is Duke's all time leader in career receptions by a tight end and could slot in nicely to a team looking for a reliable pass catcher.</p>

Noah Gray is Duke's all time leader in career receptions by a tight end and could slot in nicely to a team looking for a reliable pass catcher.

 

With some talented Blue Devils entering the 2021 NFL Draft, the Blue Zone takes a look at where they could fit in the best. 

Chris Rumph II, DE: New York Giants

The Giants need pass rushers to complement rising star Leonard Wiliams, and Rumph needs to step into a situation suited to his strengths. After three impressive years at Duke, the Gainesville, Fla., native projects well as both an edge defender and an outside linebacker, as some scouts believe he may lack the size and strength to succeed along the defensive line. Still, Rumph has an undeniable knack for getting to the quarterback, and New York is the perfect place for him to get his shot: the Giants fare well against the run, and Rumph can focus on what he does best—flattening opposing signal callers, that is—in a division that really struggles in pass protection. With plenty of other issues to address, the Giants won’t strike early at the position, making Rumph a tantalizing late-round prospect for the Big Blue Wrecking Crew.

Victor Dimukeje, DE: Chicago Bears

The notion of a Baltimore homecoming is certainly realistic, if not already enticing, but Dimukeje needs to see early opportunities that he might not get as part of a contender. Enter the Chicago Bears, who have other worries aside from the defensive line and have top-end talent in the pass rush with Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn. Aside from those two, however, Chicago could use support, and Dimukeje’s strength and consistency make Soldier Field a great place for Duke’s second all-time leader in sacks to kick start his NFL career. The Bears have already teased interest in Dimukeje—who could be off the board as early as Friday—in the draft process, and Blue Devil fans should hope the Chicago front office elects to move forward with the relationship come this weekend.

Noah Gray, TE: Buffalo Bills

There are a lot of teams in the market for tight end help: the Bengals need weapons for Joe Burrow, the Chargers are still looking for Antonio Gates’ replacement and a rebuilding team like the Jets could definitely use a reliable pass catcher like Gray. Even so, the Buffalo Bills stand out: Dawson Knox led a crowded yet underwhelming committee in 2020, one that Gray—a well-rounded prospect who looks like a subpar blocker—could slot nicely into without having to do too much. Bills quarterback Josh Allen is on the rise, the offense is explosive, and Gray would step into a great situation from the very start should he end up with the reigning AFC East champs.

Michael Carter II, S: Denver Broncos

Perhaps no Blue Devil did more to boost his stock on Pro Day than Carter, who turned in a blazing 4.30 time in the 40-yard dash. In four years at Duke, Carter saw time all across the secondary, but he figures to fit nicely on the inside as a pro, possibly as a nickelback. The Broncos might not be in dire need in the secondary, but safety Kareem Jackson isn’t getting any younger and the rest of the unit won't be in Denver forever either. Carter could fit in on the inside right away and as a depth piece at safety as part of a much-needed defensive youth movement.

Deon Jackson, RB: Carolina Panthers

At first glance, this seems ridiculous. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey is among the league’s premier talents at the position, and an unheralded prospect such as Jackson could benefit from immediate action. But feature backs come and go in this league, and McCaffrey’s injury history does little to suggest durability or longevity. NFL journeyman Mike Davis shined in McCaffrey’s absence last year behind a stellar run-blocking offensive line, suggesting that Jackson, who flashed 4.32 speed on Pro Day, could make an impact sooner than expected as part of a very young Panthers team.

Mark Gilbert, CB: Dallas Cowboys 

Gilbert is talented, no doubt, but his injury history makes him a tough read entering the draft. In all likelihood, he will have to claw his way onto an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent, but, health permitting, he could succeed as a technically sound cornerback in just about any scheme. Patience is a virtue that not many front offices honor, however, so early opportunity could be Gilbert’s best chance, and Dan Quinn’s defensive project in Dallas is a logical match. The Cowboys were historically bad on the back end in 2020, but that just means that Gilbert could play his way onto the field—if, and only if, he stays healthy.

Devery Hamilton, OT: Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia rode the strength of its offensive line to its first Super Bowl only a few years ago, but that core is getting old quickly: last year’s unit, made up mostly of injury replacements and NFL hopefuls, yielded a league-worst 4.1 sacks per game. Hamilton’s greatest quality entering the league is his ability to play across the line, a trait of great value to the rotating door that is Philadelphia’s front five.  

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