MOBILE, Ala. — He is not a Manning, but in many ways Daniel Jones exists in the shadow of the famous quarterback family.
While at Duke, Jones was coached by David Cutcliffe, who years ago filled the same role for Eli Manning at Ole Miss. Jones has heard all the stories and been hit with all the comparisons of Eli and Peyton — another Cutcliffe protege. Imagine if Jones takes this to a whole different level and joins Eli Manning with the Giants, first as an apprentice and then as a successor?
“That would be a huge opportunity for me to learn from one of the best quarterbacks to ever do it,’’ Jones said Tuesday before the first Senior Bowl practice of the week. “He’s obviously proven how great he is and over the course of his career he’s achieved a whole lot. To be able to learn from him and observe his daily routine, his practice habits, his preparation in areas of the game would be a huge opportunity for my growth and development.’’
In what is considered to be a lukewarm quarterback class, Jones is one of the top prospects entering the 2019 NFL Draft. Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State, a redshirt sophomore, will likely sit atop the draft boards of most teams at the position, the only sure-fire first-round pick. Jones, at the moment, appears to be next in line, ahead of other Senior Bowl quarterbacks Drew Lock, Will Grier and Ryan Finley. The evaluation of diminutive Kyler Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma, is ongoing.
One high-level NFL talent evaluator told The Post that Jones is a first-round pick and “hands down’’ the best quarterback of the eight participating in the Senior Bowl. The Giants own the No. 6 pick and that seems too high to take a shot on Jones. But the draft is more than three months away. At this time last year, Baker Mayfield attended the Senior Bowl and was thought to be a marginal first-round pick. He ended up going first overall to the Browns.
The Giants continue to study their options and have yet to determine whether Manning will return for a 16th season. General manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur are on hand to scout the Senior Bowl talent.
In 1992, the Giants used a first-round supplemental pick on Dave Brown, a tall pocket-passer from Duke. That did not turn out well, at all. Like Brown, Jones is tall (6-foot-5), from Duke and a traditional pocket passer. As a senior, he completed 60.5 percent of his passes and threw 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Others around the nation had far more gaudy numbers. None, though, have the intertwined relationship with the Manning brothers that Jones now sees as nothing out of the ordinary.
Cutcliffe was Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Tennessee and later was Eli’s head coach at Mississippi. The past two years, Jones attended the Manning Passing Camp in Thibodaux, La. The past two offseasons, Eli Manning brought a bunch of the Giants receivers and running backs to the Duke campus in Durham, N.C., for a few days of throwing and catching. Jones was there, of course.
“Being around those guys, watching Eli work out and lead those workouts and meetings and those types of things is really cool,’’ Jones said. “Just those relationships, being able to watch those guys is special. I got to interact with them a little bit. I got to sit in on one of Eli’s meetings and just kind of talk to him walking through the building. Peyton was there also this past year.’’
During his time at Duke, Cutcliffe exposed Jones to a whole lot of Manning, as “like a couple of times a week’’ there would be a film session showing Eli or Peyton, when Cutcliffe wanted to stress a technique, perhaps something Eli did at Ole Miss or the way Peyton used play-fakes to knock defenses off-kilter.
It all sounds as if a young quarterback could get just a bit Manning-ed out.
“I can’t remember a certain instance where that happened, but maybe there is a little bit of that,’’ Jones said, smiling. “I always saw it as it was cool to have a perspective on what Peyton or Eli was like when they were a freshman in college.’’
Jones played it straight down the middle when asked if he is more like Peyton or Eli, saying, “I’m probably different from both of them in ways and more similar to them in other ways.’’ The way he described himself, though, sounded more Eli than Peyton.
“I’ve never been a real rah-rah guy, someone who will take that approach to it,’’ Jones said. “That makes me more of a lead-by-example guy. But I try to come from a place of service and humility and prove to your teammates that you are willing to do what needs to be done for them first and put them first.’’