The steal of the draft. That’s what Duke head coach David Cutcliffe says about Blue Devils quarterback Sean Renfree, a 6-foot-3, 219-pound senior. Renfree is the latest in the line of Cutcliffe disciples that includes Peyton and Eli Manning. That list also has current NFL backup Thaddeus Lewis and former Jets reserve Erik Ainge — both well below the Manning tier where physical talent, quarterback technique, and on-field savvy intersect -– but prospects coaches still valued.
At this time of the year, coaches will often do public relations work for their players who have faded into the background of a crowded class of prospects. During his first year at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh showed scouts and media game tape of his former starting quarterback at the University of San Diego, Josh Johnson.
Cutcliffe did enough to promote Lewis’ stock at Duke that the St. Louis Rams invited the quarterback into camp in 2010, where the rookie impressed Pat Shurmur enough in the preseason that the coach took a chance on the former Blue Devils player in Cleveland. Lewis actually started the 2012 finale against Pittsburgh and delivered a 22-of-32, 204-yard performance, with one touchdown and one interception, in his first NFL regular season action.
So is Cutcliffe’s steal of the draft spin justified? Are Peter King and Mel Kiper hitching rides on a sleeper bandwagon headed for a steep cliff? Or is there gold on the horizon?
Renfree, who backed up Lewis, was the more highly-regarded quarterback in Durham. After earning the starting job as a sophomore, Renfree had three seasons with at least a 61-percent completion percentage, and two at 65 percent or above. Although Duke has an active short-passing game, there’s a lot to share that illustrates why the positive buzz has merit.
Cutcliffe’s offense is rooted in a pro style, and Renfree has experience with a variety of drops and fakes where he has to manipulate the defense with his eyes and body while delivering throws with anticipation and accuracy against pressure. Renfree and Tulane’s Ryan Griffin and Renfree are two examples of why I believe this 2013 quarterback class may lack star power at the top, but its middle and bottom tiers have more potential than the 2012 group.