Two of the biggest surprises in this year’s NFL Draft involved players from North Carolina colleges, one because of how early he was taken and the other because of how far he fell before his name was finally called.
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones turned heads and brought about boos from fans gathered at MetLife Stadium when the New York Giants selected him with the sixth overall pick, sooner than most projected.
But at least he didn’t have to wait long to find out what uniform he’ll be wearing next season.
For NC State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon, an underclassman once considered a potential first-rounder, the wait lasted six excruciating rounds over three days before he was finally drafted by the Washington Redskins.
As disappointing as the experience might have been, it will become little more than a footnote once Harmon takes the field for the first time. Like Jones and the eight other newly minted NFL draftees from state schools, it’s now up to him to prove he has what it takes to play football professionally.
“Oh man, I was excited to get the call,” Harmon said in an interview with Redskins.com. “You know I’ve been waiting but everything is in God’s hands, so this is the team I’m supposed to be on. I’m ready to go to work.”
Harmon was one of four former Wolfpack stars to be taken in the draft.
Center Garrett Bradbury was the first to come off the board, going to the Minnesota Vikings in the first round Thursday with the 18th overall pick. Linebacker Germaine Pratt was a third-round choice while quarterback Ryan Finley went in the fourth round, both to the Cincinnati Bengals, before Harmon’s selection.
The haul continued a trend that began a year ago with seven State players taken in the 2018 draft.
“In my (recruiting) class in 2014, we tried to start a foundation and start a culture,” Pratt said. “So 2014 was a huge class for us. I redshirted, so it took me an extra year there. So I’d say yeah, it was huge for us.”
Other drafted players included offensive guard Nate Davis of Charlotte to the Tennessee Titans in the third round, offensive guard Phil Haynes of Wake Forest to the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth round, linebacker Cole Holcomb of North Carolina to the Redskins in the fifth round, offensive tackle Oli Udoh of Elon to the Vikings in the sixth round and defensive end Darryl Johnson of NC A&T to the Buffalo Bills in the seventh round.
Among those North Carolina natives that went to school out of state, Wake Forest’s Dexter Lawrence of Clemson joined Jones as a first-round pick of the Giants while fellow Wake Forest product Bryce Love, a running back from Stanford, was taken in the fourth round by the Redskins. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier will play pro ball close to his hometown of Davidson as the third-round choice of the Carolina Panthers.
A number of other players — including underclassmen Jakobi Meyers of State, Anthony Ratliff-Williams of UNC and Clifton Duck of Appalachian State — signed with teams as free agents after going undrafted.
Of all those players that were drafted, none created more of a stir than Jones, who whose selection by the Giants has been derided as the biggest reach of the draft.
Though most experts had the Duke junior rated below Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and Missouri’s Drew Lock, New York’s general manager Dave Gettleman said he fell “in full-bloom love” with Jones after watching him at the Senior Bowl in January and didn’t want to risk losing him by waiting until his team’s second selection in the first round at No. 17.
Despite the negative reaction to his pick, including a headline in the New York Post calling the Giants “Blue’s Clueless,” Jones said he’s comfortable with his new role as the heir apparent to future Hall of Famer Eli Manning.
“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to learn for a young quarterback,” he said. “(Manning) is a guy that’s had a whole lot of success in the NFL and there is a reason for that. I’m looking to understand that and do my best to learn as much as I can from him while he’s in New York.
“I’m not going to try to be Eli or be anything but myself. I think staying confident in that and staying confident in who I am is what’s going to be key to that process.”
While Jones will have to wait at least a season, if not more, to become an NFL starter, fellow first-rounder Bradbury is being counted on to contribute right away for the Vikings.
He’ll battle incumbent center Pat Elflein for the starting job in preseason camp, with the winner of the competition staying at the position and the other player being moved to left guard.
Bradbury, who played guard as a sophomore with the Wolfpack, said it doesn’t matter to him as long as he has a place to play.
“My biggest attraction (to playing offensive line) is that you don’t come off the field,” Bradbury said. “I don’t want to come off the field. I love to play football. Wherever it is on the offensive line, I don’t care.”