Duke in the NFL: Gray gets start in opener, Jones struggles in Giants' blowout loss

Noah Gray was on the field for the majority of the Chiefs' snaps in Travis Kelce's absence.
Noah Gray was on the field for the majority of the Chiefs' snaps in Travis Kelce's absence.

As the NFL season is officially underway, the Blue Zone analyzes the opening-week performances of former Duke football standouts: 

Noah Gray, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

With tight end Travis Kelce, Patrick Mahomes’ favorite and most successful target, out with a knee injury, the depth of the Kansas City roster was put to the test. The spotlight fell on some less experienced offensive players including Noah Gray, who was on the field for 87% of snaps. By comparison, Kelce was on the field for 79% of offensive snaps in the 2022 season — and exceeded 87% just once. Needless to say, the Chiefs depended on Gray an unusual amount. Gray had three receptions for a total of 31 receiving yards but no touchdowns. Compared to tight end Blake Bell, who had two receptions for a total of 12 receiving yards, Gray fared relatively well. However, the Leominster, Mass., native is clearly no match for what Kelce brings to the Chiefs’ offense. With Kelce’s status uncertain, however, Mahomes is in uncharted territory but will need to adapt and find some sort of flow with new targets. Gray needs to capitalize on this opportunity and become a real competitor for the reigning Super Bowl champs. 

Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants

The Giants certainly didn’t start their 2023 campaign on the right foot. Both the Cowboys’ defense and offense put the Giants to sleep with a 40-0 victory. Jones is known for his mobility and speed as a quarterback: He’s capable of making plays with his legs, whether it’s extending plays in the pocket or even gaining significant yardage as a rushing threat. However, it’s clear after Week 1 that ball security is a huge area of concern. Jones could not seem to connect with star running back Saquon Barkley as Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs repeatedly interrupted their production. The Cowboys defense led by linebacker Micah Parsons was tougher and more aggressive than the Giants’ O-line, sacking Jones seven times and forcing him into three turnovers. 

The Duke alum had some poor decision making throughout the game, including haphazardly flicking the ball to tight end Darren Waller while scrambling towards the sidelines. He was subsequently picked off and the Cowboys reached the end zone two minutes later. Given the massive $160 million contract extension Jones signed in 2023, he needs to regroup as he faces a tough schedule to prove he deserves to be one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league. 

Laken Tomlinson, G, New York Jets

All eyes were on Aaron Rodgers as he charged into MetLife Stadium Sept. 11 with the American flag and the energy and support of long-suffering Jets fans behind him. The four-time MVP — with massive preseason hype and a feature on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” — promised to bring the Jets into a new era of domination. However, Rodgers’ 2023 season lasted just four snaps. Protection from the O-line was weak in those four plays, and it was the sack from linebacker Leonard Floyd that left Rodgers with a season-ending injury. With Zach Wilson back in the driver’s seat, the offensive line will be more important than ever. After Rodgers' exit, starting left guard Laken Tomlinson’s unit allowed two more sacks. Considering that Wilson is inexperienced and can be error-prone under pressure, protection from guards like Tomlinson is the key to offensive success without Rogers. 


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