Duke football's Heyward, Joiner, Deckers sign with NFL teams as undrafted free agents

Redshirt senior captain Shaka Heyward is headed to the pros.
Redshirt senior captain Shaka Heyward is headed to the pros.

Three Blue Devils are NFL bound.

Linebacker Shaka Heyward, defensive back Darius Joiner and long snapper Evan Deckers were signed as undrafted free agents after the 2023 NFL Draft Saturday evening by the Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively.

Heyward, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker, has been a staple of the Blue Devil defense for the past three years. He was presented the Vincent Rey Award for the team’s top linebacker as both a sophomore and a junior before being named captain ahead of the 2022 season. With two All-ACC selections to his name, the Dacula, Ga., native has made his way onto numerous Duke all-time lists, most notably as his five fumble recoveries tie him for eighth in program history. 

After 40 straight games with at least three tackles, Heyward’s impact on the Duke defense throughout the last three seasons cannot be understated. As a senior captain, he was awarded the program's defensive MVP award after his 94-tackle season. He will look to take his talents to Cincinnati. 

Joiner, a graduate defensive back who excelled at March's Pro Day event with 36-inch vertical and 10.1-foot broad jumps, respectively, joins a growing Texans secondary under head coach DeMeco Ryans.

Across an impressive 2022 season, Joiner earned Third Team All-ACC honors with the Blue Devils, leading the team in total tackles with 97 and interceptions with two. He started all 13 games en route to a Military Bowl triumph against UCF in December 2022. On top of that, he was 11th in the ACC in tackles per game with 7.6 in a unit that jumped from the conference's leakiest to its fifth-best. The Roanoke, Ala., native is an explosive defender with acute positional awareness and brings intelligence and a relentless motor to his new employers.

Prior to joining head coach Mike Elko's inaugural roster in Durham, Joiner spent time at Jacksonville State and Western Illinois, earning FCS All-America distinction in 2021.

Meanwhile, Deckers was a career starter in Durham and during his time with Massachusetts, serving as the team's primary long snapper. With Deckers on the field, kickers converted 44-of-60 total field goals and 154-of-158 extra points.

The trio represents Duke's only NFL signees in this year's cycle, and will hope to lock down roster spots before the season kicks off later this summer.

Rachael Kaplan profile
Rachael Kaplan | Sports Managing Editor

Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Sports Editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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