Duke has landed one of the nation’s top 30 classes according to Scout.com, pulling commitments from 21 players - all of whom are rated as three star prospects or better. It’s the best recruiting haul in the David Cutcliffe era, which could be best in 50 years for the Blue Devils.
With that in mind, here’s our annual National Signing Day superlatives and stories.
1. WR Scott Bracey - he was the first commitment in the class and ends up as the highest rated player coming into Durham. Bracey will likely be playing a true freshman, but it’s what he represented for the Blue Devil program that makes him the biggest commitment in the group. Duke went out and grabbed one of the top players in the country very early and managed not only to hold on to him for more than a year and a half, they built off that early momentum and landed several more high major recruits. All in all Duke brought in four Scout 300 players, but none was more important than the first.
2. S Dylan Singleton - Another Scout 300 ranked player, Singleton was thought to be headed to Georgia, but the Blue Devils stayed in and eventually showed more commitment to Singleton. Shortly after committing to Duke the future Blue Devil was pursued by Ohio State, but eventually shut things down for Duke. If Bracey was the start of the momentum, Singleton may have been the cherry on top of it all. One of the 10 best safeties in the country and a guy who will likely be playing as a true freshman.
3. LB Koby Quansah - The three star linebacker released a list of 10 finalists in early June and then shocked most of the recruiting world with a decision for Duke soon after. He was thought to be favoring Notre Dame, but picked the Blue Devils. The timing of that decision seemed to spark a mini-run of decisions which signified that spots were filling up in Durham and prospects had to jump. Over the next week the Blue Devils picked up three additional pledges and several other players were told that there was no longer any room in the class.
Just Missed: Getting CB Mark Gilbert - the best cornerback in North Carolina - was a huge shot across the bow of fellow in-state ACC programs.
1. OT Clark Yarborough - A player from academic powerhouse Woodberry Forest in Virginia, Yarborough was high on Duke very early and the Blue Devils pursued him very hard - both by the coaching staff and fellow commits. A four star offensive tackle and Scout 300 member, Yarborough eventually picked Stanford in May. The silver lining was that his decision came early enough for Duke to recover.
2. OT Michael Menet - a five star offensive lineman had offers from every high major program in the country. Duke eventually battled with hometown program Penn State, but the loyalty to his childhood and family favorite would win out in the end. Ultimately Menet ended up as the nation’s No. 2 overall offensive tackle and No. 24 overall prospect. While Duke’s class is terrific, landing a five star tackle ranked among the 25 best players in the nation regardless of position would have been the next level of establishment.
3. QB Chazz Surratt - at the time Surratt was a four star quarterback who was invited to the Elite 11 camp. He’s a tremendous athlete and eventually committed to Duke. However, the decision to become a Blue Devil came after North Carolina had taken another signal caller in the class. A few weeks later Surratt de-committed from Duke and committed to a possible dual-sport career in Chapel Hill. With the passing game being a question mark last season in Durham, Surratt - a highly rated quarterback prospect - represented a potential need being filled. Of course, the fact that Duke didn’t really look at the quarterback throughout the entirety of the class speaks to the level of need felt in Durham.
WHO WILL PLAY AGAINST NC CENTRAL IN AUGUST
Ideally Duke would like to redshirt the entirety of every freshman class. However, the program is now to the point where some recruits are simply ready to go from day one. This year’s haul seems to have several of those players.
Heading into Signing Day the smart money has Bracey definitely suiting up for the first game against NC Central. He’s big, athletic, and fast. With Duke putting an emphasis on becoming more dangerous down field and with explosive plays in the passing game, it’s hard to bet against Bracey.
You can also look at the running back position for a player who could play early. Duke has Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson coming back from last year, but another big back is needed. Joseph Ajeigbe battled health issues last year and converted quarterback Nico Pierre could have a future as well. But with health at the position always such variable, it’s not out of the question for Duke to play either Brittain Brown or Elijah Deveaux as a freshman. Both are big and strong, though Brown could be more explosive.
Duke could also look to play Mark Birmingham, but that’s less likely with the arrival or former four star and Scout 300 member Daniel Helm from Tennessee.
Most likely Duke will also look at Dylan Singleton in the defensive backfield on the initial two-deep when it’s released. If DeVon Edwards remains at cornerback there will be two starters gone from three safety positions a season ago. Singleton, much like Ben Humphreys in 2015, will have a chance to earn his way into a lot of snaps early in his career.
More out of need than anything else, Duke will likely have to play one of the young defensive ends if not more. There are several candidates available here, but our pick between Chidi Okonyo, Terrell Lucas, and Tre Hornbuckle would be Lucas as a hand down defensive end.
There are a lot of young players in the defensive backfield, but Duke has enrolled Mark Gilbert early and that could give him a chance to really break into the cornerback discussion after Spring practice.
As far as specialists go, Duke will definitely play true freshman kicker, A.J. Reed.
Potentially Great OL Class: They will all redshirt, but this group of offensive linemen may be the best in the program’s history. Offensive tackles Robert Kraeling and Liam Smith mix with guards Jaylen Miller and Julian Santos to give Coach Cutcliffe a quartet of highly rated and highly recruited linemen that could maintain what is usually a very solid group of players on the line of scrimmage. It usually takes linemen a bit of time, but you can see this group factoring into the depth chart in a big, big way by the time they are third year sophomores.
Missing on a QB: As noted above, Duke landed a four star signal caller seemingly out of the blue before he changed his mind. Aside from the Surratt recruitment, Duke didn’t do a lot under center in this class. Or did they? A season ago Duke was looking to gray-shirt QB Daniel Jones, but some roster shakeups early on in the year allowed the Blue Devils to put the 6-foot-5 Jones on scholarship and redshirt him along with Quentin Harris. Both players had reportedly good years and while it’s all speculation at this point, the fact that Duke didn’t heavily pursue another signal caller speaks volumes.
Another pair of four year starting specialists: Five years ago Duke had a redshirt freshman punter and a freshman kicker taking over the special teams responsibilities. Ross Martin and Will Monday certainly worked out well, and now Coach Cutcliffe will go back to that strategy with freshman kicker A.J. Reed and redshirt freshman punter Austin Parker. With Reed, he came to Durham and went through what amounted to a NFL specialist level circuit of drills and tests to earn a scholarship - same as Martin five years ago. He, like Martin, passed with flying colors. We’ll see how things progress going forward.
WHAT’S NEXT AND NEEDED
Duke will begin searching for a first commit from 2017 by hosting three junior days in the coming weeks. Those three events will correspond with the home basketball games against Virginia, NC State, and North Carolina.
Offensive line will continue to be a priority on the recruiting trail, as will finding a quarterback in 2018. Landing a defensive tackle or two along with another big play (tall) wide receiver will also be priorities.