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Duke WR Conner Vernon headed to the Oakland Raiders

After he wasn't selected in the NFL draft, Conner Vernon signed with the Oakland Raiders. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

Shortly after the NFL draft ended, former Duke WR Conner Vernon agreed to go to the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent

Vernon is the all-time ACC leader in catches (283), receiving yardage (3,749) and consecutive games with at least one catch (48). He caught a Duke single-season record 85 catches for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns as the Blue Devils made their first bowl game since 1994.

Vernon doesn’t post combine numbers that jump off the charts. But he has a knack for catching passes and making plays. That’s an ability both Peyton and Eli Manning noted earlier this month, as they have worked with him during their offseason visits over the years.

"The last couple of years I’ve worked out with Conner a little bit, thrown routes with him, played 7-on-7 with him a few years ago, and he kept getting open," Eli said. "I noticed that I keep going his way. He’s my first read on some things, and he’s winning on some post routes and go routes.”

“What an unbelievable career he’s had here,” Peyton added. “I’m pulling real hard for him. I think he’d be a good addition to an NFL roster.”

Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe has been adamant throughout the year that Vernon has what it takes to play in the NFL.

“Whoever gets Conner Vernon is going to get an outstanding football player,” Cutcliffe said earlier this week, “And a guy that's going to contribute to their team.”

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Eli Manning on Conner Vernon

Conner Vernon worked with the Mannings all week. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

DURHAM—Peyton and Eli Manning stopped by Duke this week for what amounted to a three-day minicamp hosted by Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe. You can read all about that here.

In addition to the professional wide receivers running around (which included the likes of Wes Welker, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Eric Decker and a few others), former Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon worked extensively with the Mannings as well. It's not the first time Vernon has worked with the Mannings—two years ago, he caught passes for Eli, and last year he worked a bit with Peyton during his rehab.

Peyton said he thought Vernon, who is projected as a late-round pick, would be a valuable addition to any NFL roster. Eli had similar praise for his abilities.

Duke WR Conner Vernon receives NFL combine invite


Duke WR Conner Vernon is headed to the NFL combine. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

In addition to his senior bowl invitation, Duke WR Conner Vernon has also received an invite to the NFL Combine. The Combine, which will be held Feb. 20-26 in Indianapolis, only extends invitations to players who have a realistic chance of being drafted. Should Vernon hear his named called during April's NFL draft, he will be the first Duke wide receiver drafted since Clarkston Hines was taken by the Bills in the ninth round of the 1990 draft.

The last players to be drafted directly from Duke was OT Ben Strojny, who was chosen in seventh round by the New York Giants in 2004. Ben Patrick, a tight end for the Arizona Cardinals, played three years at Duke before transferring to Delaware for his final year. He was drafted in the seventh round of the 2007 draft.

Duke WR Conner Vernon to play in Senior Bowl

Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon has one more game in his college career. CREDIT: Chuck Liddy

Duke WR Conner Vernon has accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl. Here's the full release from the school:

Duke’s Conner Vernon, the ACC’s all-time leader in pass receptions and receiving yardage, has accepted an invitation to play in the 64th annual Senior Bowl. The game is set for 4 p.m. (ET) on January 26 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., and will be televised live by the NFL Network.

In 48 career games at Duke, Vernon caught 283 passes for 3,749 yards and 21 touchdowns and established ACC records for career pass receptions, career receiving yardage, most consecutive games with at least one pass reception (48), most seasons with 50-plus receptions (4) and most seasons with 70-plus receptions (3). On the NCAA’s career charts, he ranks 23rd for career catches and 24th for career receiving yards.

Duke football postseason awards

Conner Vernon is one of many Blue Devils to pick up a few postseason awards. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

A one-stop rundown of all the Duke postseason awards:

CB Ross Cockrell—honorable mention All-American (Sports Illustrated), first-team coaches' All-ACC team, first-team coaches' All-ACC team, first team All-ACC

Ross Martin—honorable mention All-American (Sports Illustrated), Freshman All-American (Sporting News, CBSCollegeSports.com), honorable mention coaches All-ACC team, honorable mention All-ACC

QB Sean Renfree—Jim Tatum Award (top senior ACC football senior-athlete),  National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete, Pop Warner National College Football Award, AFCA’s Good Works Team, Senior CLASS Award finalist, East West Shrine Game participant

David Cutcliffe chosen ACC Coach of the Year by his peers

 

David Cutcliffe was voted ACC Coach of the Year by the other league coaches. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

Mirroring the media's selection one week ago, the ACC coaches voted Duke's David Cutcliffe Coach of the Year. Cutcliffe received seven of 12 possible votes.

Cutcliffe, in his fifth year at Duke, took over a program with 10 total wins in the eight seasons before he arrived. Since he came to Durham prior to the 2008 season, Duke is 21-39 (.350) and, this year, competed for the ACC Coastal Division title until the penultimate week of the regular season, finishing 6-6 and earning a berth in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati. 

Cornerback Ross Cockrell, punter Will Monday and wide receiver voted for an All-ACC football team, as well as Players of the Year, Rookies of the Year and a Coach of the Year award. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players and cast ballots for two points for first-team and one point for second-team selections. were also named first-team all-ACC by the coaches. Vernon was one of three players chosen for the first team that the media picked for the second-team. 

A brief history of the Belk Bowl

 

While Conner Vernon may have briefly doubted Duke could make a bowl, the 2012 Blue Devils have made that dream a reality. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY

DURHAM—When asked what his first choice was for a bowl destination, cornerback Ross Cockrell said Miami.

While an ACC title and a trip to the Orange Bowl would have been nice, Duke players are plenty satisfied with Charlotte's Belk Bowl as a consolation prize.

"I’m excited to be in a pro stadium, in a pro locker room and see what that’s like," Cockrell said of the venue, the Carolina Panthers' Bank of America Stadium. "At the end of the day, it’s still a football game, and we have to go out and do what we have to do."

Duke CB Ross Cockrell and P Will Monday earn first-team all-ACC honors

 

Duke punter Will Monday was one of two Blue Devils to receive first-team all-ACC honors. Credit: CHRIS SEWARD

For the first time since 2003, Duke had two players selected for the first-team all-ACC squad. Overall, nine Blue Devils received all-ACC honors

CB Ross Cockrell and P Will Monday both made the first team. Cockrell, a redshirt junior and co-captain, leads the ACC with five interceptions, and he ranks third in total passes defended (17). In 12 games, he has amassed 63 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, and 12 pass breakups. Monday, a redshirt freshman, leads the ACC and ranks 14th nationally in punting average at 44.12 yards per punt. 

Here are two feature stories from earlier in the year, one on Cockrell and the other on Monday

For the third year in a row, Duke WR Conner Vernon was a second-team all-ACC selection. This year, he has caught a team-best (and school single-season record) 75 passes for 955 yards and seven touchdowns. Earlier this season, Vernon became the ACC’s all-time leader in both pass receptions and receiving yardage with 273 catches for 3,630 yards. In 2009, Vernon was on the freshmen all-ACC team. 

Vernon received 51 votes this year—two fewer than Boston College, WR Alex Amidon, who made the first team ahead of him. Amidon has 78 catches for 1,210 yards on the year. 

UNC releases statements after Shakeel Rashad suspension

UNC coach Larry Fedora said Shakeel Rashad's collision with Conner Vernon on Saturday was unintentional. ROBERT WILLETT

CHAPEL HILL — The ACC earlier today suspended Shakeel Rashad, the North Carolina freshman linebacker, after he collided with Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon during the Blue Devils’ 33-30 victory on Saturday.

Not long after the ACC announced the suspension, UNC released statements from Rashad, coach Larry Fedora and Bubba Cunningham, the athletic director. Cunningham said he was “disappointed” in the suspension.

Here are those statements:

UNC LB Shakeel Rashad suspended for colliding with Conner Vernon

CHAPEL HILL — The ACC has issued a one-game suspension to North Carolina freshman linebacker Shakeel Rashad as punishment for his pre-snap collision with Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon during the second quarter of the Blue Devils’ 33-30 victory on Saturday.

With about 10 minutes to play in the second quarter and Duke leading 13-6, Rashad ran from the sideline onto the field, where he collided with Vernon, the Blue Devils’ senior receiver, and knocked him to the ground. Vernon remained down for several moments but walked off the field unassisted and missed one play.

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