Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, linebacker Joe Giles-Harris entering 2019 NFL Draft

Duke’s Cutcliffe: ‘Nothing Daniel Jones does surprises me.’

Duke Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe addresses the play of quarterback Daniel Jones in their 56-27 win over the Temple Owls in the Independence Bowl at Shreveport, Louisiana on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018.
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Duke Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe addresses the play of quarterback Daniel Jones in their 56-27 win over the Temple Owls in the Independence Bowl at Shreveport, Louisiana on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018.

Duke’s Daniel Jones is ending his college career early in favor of the NFL and all-ACC linebacker Joe Giles-Harris is joining him.

A redshirt junior quarterback, Jones said Monday he’ll bypass his final year of college eligibility to enter the 2019 NFL Draft, where he’s projected as a first-round pick.

Jones made the decision and met with Duke coach David Cutcliffe Monday morning.

“I think it was an extremely tough decision for me,” Jones said Monday. “I was deciding between a program where all my closest friends are, my closes buddies and teammates. the coaches and coach Cutcliffe have done so much for me. It was a strong pull that way.

“The other way was just an opportunity that I have dreamed about my entire life. I felt like it was the time for me personally as a player and as a person. This next step felt right and what I was going to be the happiest doing it now.”

Initially planning to play at Princeton following his high school career at Charlotte Latin, Jones came to Duke as a walk-on in 2015. He was put on scholarship and redshirted that season before taking over the starting job in 2016.

In three seasons, Jones threw for 8,201 yards and 52 touchdowns with 29 interceptions, completing 59.9 percent of his passes.

This season, helping Duke to an 8-5 record, Jones completed 60.5 percent of his passes (237 of 392) with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He missed two games with a broken left collarbone in September.

“Without a doubt, we are excited for Daniel and his decision to enter the upcoming NFL Draft and could not be happier for him and his family,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said in a statement. “Daniel has been a cornerstone of our program and leaves with our full support. It has been a privilege to coach him, but the best part about Daniel is he’s an even better young man than he is a football player. The bottom line is he’s a special person and we’ll miss him greatly.”

At 6-5 and 220 pounds, Jones has impressed NFL scouts with his size, arm strength and ability to maneuver in the pocket. In Duke’s 42-35 win over North Carolina on Nov. 10, Jones threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 186 yards and a touchdown.

In making his decision, Jones sought feedback from the NFL, which projected him as a first-round prospect.

“I don’t think I would have made this decision if I wouldn’t have been projected to go early,” Jones said.

Giles-Harris also started the last three seasons for Duke after redshirting in 2015. He was named all-ACC the last two seasons.

“The last four years of my life have been some of the best. It has been a blessing and privilege to wear Duke blue and represent this great university,” Giles-Harris said in a statement. “After much thought, I have decided to forgo my last year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft to pursue my lifelong dream of playing professional football. Thank you to Duke University, Dr. (Kevin) White, Coach Cutcliffe, the entire Duke football staff and Blue Devil fans for providing me with an unforgettable experience. I’d also like to thank my family for their continuous love and support throughout this journey. If it were not for them, I would not be the man I am. Finally, I give all glory to God because without Him, none of this would be possible!”

Giles-Harris finished this season with 80 tackles, including 6.5 for losses, despite missing Duke’s final four games after suffering a knee injury in the Blue Devils’ 20-12 win at Miami on Nov. 3. He practiced in preparation for the Independence Bowl but wasn’t healthy enough to play.

“Congratulations to Joe for putting himself in a position to continue his football career,” Cutcliffe said. “We are thrilled for him and his family as this opportunity presents itself. We could not be more appreciative of Joe’s commitment and dedication as he has represented our program both on and off the field to the highest degree. Two-time first team All-ACC linebackers don’t come around very often and while Joe will be missed, we wish him the best of luck.”

Jones completed work toward his economics degree during the fall semester, which allows him to spend all his time on draft preparations. He said he’s yet to start the process of picking an agent or deciding where he’ll do his pre-draft conditioning work because he didn’t finalize his decision to turn pro until Monday.

After taking final exams, Jones said he only wanted to concentrate on helping Duke win the Independence Bowl. Jones threw five touchdown passes and ran for another score last Thursday when Duke beat Temple, 56-27, in the bowl game in Shreveport, La.

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones set two Independence Bowl passing records in leading the Blue Devils to a 56-27 win over the Temple Owls on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018.

“I’ve tried to use all my time to help us play our best in the bowl game,” Jones said. “It hasn’t been an easy decision for me at all because of what Duke has meant to me.”

Jones said his meeting with Cutcliffe Monday went well because the two have grown so close over the last four years.

“He’s been very supportive,” Jones said. “He’s very excited for me. He told me the whole time he would be happy for me either way. We talked through it and I thought about at the pros and cons. We thought this was going to be a good decision for me. He trusts that I’d think about it and do what’s best for me.”

Jones’ departure leaves Duke with Quentin Harris, Chris Katrenick and Gunnar Holmberg as scholarship quarterbacks for the 2019 season. Harris started two games last September while Jones was injured. He completed 34 of 68 passes this season as a redshirt junior with seven touchdowns and one interception.

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.