NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There isn’t a shred of doubt or a moment of hesitation when David Cutcliffe suggests how good he believes Daniel Jones can be now that the former Duke star is the Giants’ quarterback of the future.
“He can win a championship,” Cutcliffe said as he stood just a stone’s throw away from the stage in downtown Nashville, where Roger Goodell announced that the Giants had chosen Jones with the sixth overall pick. “He’s that level of NFL quarterback. I just know he’ll be a championship quarterback in that league.”
There is certainly a good deal of skepticism among Giants fans who are convinced that general manager Dave Gettleman reached for Jones with his first of three first-round picks, rather than take pass rusher Josh Allen of Kentucky and then wait for Jones at No. 17. But Cutcliffe, who coached Jones at Duke the last four seasons and has been a confidant of both Peyton and Eli Manning, believes down to his core that Jones has the right stuff to succeed in the NFL.
“He throws the ball well enough to play with anybody,” Cutcliffe said. “I would think he’s going to play 14, 16 years, and he’ll be a championship quarterback. He’ll win a championship.”
Just another college coach pumping up his own player? Go ahead and think that, if you will, but Cutcliffe has built a reputation for honesty and integrity, to the point that those who know him best believe he is not into self-serving commentary. Cutcliffe calls it like he sees it, and he sees Jones as having what it takes.
Jones’ statistical production certainly is underwhelming. In three seasons as the Blue Devils’ starter, he had 52 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions. Heck, No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray had 42 touchdown passes last season for Oklahoma.
But the talent around Jones never has been what it is for other quarterbacks at schools with much stronger football programs. So Cutcliffe believes you need to cut Jones some slack, and that there is really no apples-to-apples comparison to be made.
“He has great courage in the pocket, has great pocket movement,” Cutcliffe said. “I can throw the film on and show you. I don’t see some film, I see all of it. There’s a difference.”
Cutcliffe had a feeling the Giants were more than a little interested in Jones when they came in for a pre-draft visit to work him out at Duke.
“I’ve known those guys a while,” he said of Gettleman and coach Pat Shurmur. “I’m not going to ask them to tell me [what they thought], but you can tell when somebody really likes someone. There were four or five people that came in and had the same reaction.”
Cutcliffe showed the reaction by widening his eyes and opening his mouth slightly.
“When you get on the field with [Jones], when you stand out there, it’s different,” Cutcliffe said. “I have great confidence in those guys. Pat Shurmur gets it. He’s been around a long time and he gets it. I didn’t ask him, but I could see there was a connection there.”
There couldn’t be a better mentor for Jones than Manning, who has been around Jones when he attended the Manning Passing Academy and at Duke, where Manning frequently visits and runs clinics for Cutcliffe. And now there will be no discomfort between the two now that Manning has a legitimate prospect behind him for the first time in his career.
“He’s fine. I’ve already talked to Eli,” Cutcliffe said. “Whatever’s good for the squad. Competition’s good, but Eli is doing really well right now. Feels good. I’m excited for him. I’d love for them to be there together, and both of them would grow. They’ve been around each other. They’re comfortable with each other.”
Best-case scenario is a smooth transition from mentor to protege, a process that may not take all that long. Especially if Jones adapts to the NFL as successfully as Cutcliffe believes he will.
There’s no doubt in the coach’s mind that Jones is the right quarterback at the right time for a franchise that needs to prepare for life after Manning.