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Cutcliffe Sees Similarities Between Jones, Eli

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Daniel Jones and Eli Manning will soon share the same field. Already, they share more, a distinction David Cutcliffe will explain and confirm.

I would think he is going to play 14, 16 years and he will be a championship quarterback. He'll win a championship.
~David Cutcliffe

With Duke quarterback Daniel Jones being selected sixth overall by the New York Giants, the comparisons to Eli Manning aren't just obvious, they can be confirmed. Both Deep South-signal callers stood exactly 6'5'', 221 pounds at the NFL Combine, were developed by noted guru David Cutcliffe as their college head coach and were hot-button talking points as polarizing first round picks. Drafted 15 years apart, Jones and Manning will soon share the same field. Already, they share more, a distinction Cutcliffe will explain and confirm.

Measurables and mechanics between the two aside, Cutcliffe, one of the most respected coaches in all of college football, is the ultimate commonality. Having directly tutored four first round quarterbacks in Eli and Peyton Manning, Heath Shuler and now Jones, in addition to mentoring many other successful passers, Cutcliffe was by his latest pupil's side in Nashville. The setting was one Cutcliffe has seen before. 

After Jones became the second quarterback off the board following Arizona's selection of Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray with the number one overall pick, Cutcliffe was quick to offer validation on Jones. Cucliffe's convictions come with great credibility. 

"Oh yeah, I think they are fair," Cutcliffe nodded of the correlations, "except, and I tell Daniel this, you haven't done it yet. We can compare, but it is apples and oranges."

Regardless of what awaits, a new legacy will long last in Durham. The last Duke quarterback to be selected in the top 50 picks of the NFL Draft was Sonny Jurgensen in 1957. A Pro Football Hall of Famer who starred with the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, he went on to lead the league in passing yards five times, win a championship in 1960s and become a member of the NFL's 1960s All-Decade Team. Jurgensen played 18 professional seasons.

A number of Cutcliffe's Duke quarterbacks have made it to the pro ranks. Sean Renfree was a seventh round selection in 2013, while Thad Lewis, a former starter in the league, and Anthony Boone signed free agent deals. Jones brings even more attention to Cutcliffe's work with the Blue Devils. Dating back to 1942, Jones is Duke's highest drafted player since the Chicago Cardinals took running back Steve Lach fourth overall. 

The upside with Jones is there, but continued polish is needed. In his last contest at Duke, Jones completed 32-of-44 passes for 440 yards, throwing for five touchdowns, though with three interceptions, and running for another score. Playing three seasons for Cutcliffe's Blue Devils, Jones passed for 8,201 yards and 52 touchdowns and ran for 1,323 yards and 17 scores. He, the last two years, led Duke to consecutive bowl victories for the first time in program history; in both games, Jones was named the MVP of both games.

Fittingly for a player soon to step into one of the brightest spotlights in sports, Jones' breakout came in a storied triumph at Notre Dame. That afternoon, the freshman connected on 70% of his passes for 290 yards for 290 yards and three touchdowns. After the Fighting Irish took a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, momentum seemingly in Notre Dame's favor, Jones promptly responded by going 4-of-4 for 89 yards to finish the game, tying the contest with a 64-yard scoring strike, then setting up the game-winning field goal.

The country found out about the rising star from Charlotte. Cutcliffe already knew.

"A lot of the world saw it," the veteran head coach acknowledged. "Doug Flutie was at that game and he found me afterwards and said 'wow'. And I said 'yeah, I see it everyday in practice'."

Reserved and unrattled, Jones rallied Duke to a win for the ages in the South Bend. He was steady throughout. That approach, as much as his arm talent and mobility, is what Cutcliffe likes to point out. As Jones' national profile has grown and his draft stock has risen, he has remained true to his principles and style. A foundation of focus has helped Jones stay consistent as his circumstances have changed. How Jones steadies himself was an anchor for the Blue Devils and may soon be the same for the New York Giants.

That, too, comes with similarities to the younger Manning.

"If you get a guy that is a little too emotional and gets a little too high when things are good or even pay attention a little bit to some of the praise, you are going to have problems because things are going to go bad at some point. He is built to where he is a really even-keeled guy. He will be criticized for that," Cutcliffe added. " We've heard it with Eli. Nothing is ever as good as it seems or as bad. Even in that market. When you just go to work everyday, focus on your work, not on what people think; Daniel does a great job with that."

In the eyes of his new team, and his accomplished former head coach, Jones could prove to be the complete package. All of the ability is there, along with, some feel, the perspective to allow such potential to translate into production. Again, that track record is one that Cutcliffe has seen settle at the highest level before, including, specifically, in New York. There is both a path and a profile for Jones to follow.  

"He's gifted physically, he's gifted mentally, he is willing to do the work. He has got a fierce competitiveness that may be a little quiet. Don't ever think Eli is not a fierce competitor. To live in that household growing up, you had to be a serious competitor as the youngest son, right? They both have that temperament that will serve Daniel well playing in the NFL," Cutcliffe shared. "He will still be hungry, no different than Eli is, after 12 years, 14 years, 15 years. I never saw Peyton's hunger change. Daniel has got that."

The responsibilities awaiting Jones are downright staggering. Eli Manning is a four-time Pro Bowler, a two-time Super Bowl winner, a two-time Super Bowl MVP and a Walter Payton Man of the Year. He is one of the great quarterbacks of this generation and a future Hall of Famer. Tabbed to, one day, be Manning's replacement, Jones will have big shoes to fill. That said, he has a very specific track to follow, that of his high-profile predecessor. It appears the plan is to let Jones continue to progress, and learn, while Manning finishes his famed career.

Beyond being tied to all of the other top-notch signal callers in this draft class, Jones will have to prove many naysayers wrong. Manning is long-term the standard.   

All of the parallels may ultimately prove to be prophetic.

"I think he is going to be a great player. I think football coaches see that. Now, you have to have all of the right pieces to the puzzle. You have to stay healthy in that league, you got to continue to get better," Cutcliffe looked ahead. "I would think he is going to play 14, 16 years and he will be a championship quarterback. He'll win a championship."

The past, in Manning, has already been proven. The future awaits in Jones. Their stories have long been intertwined.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports