Giants quarterback Daniel Jones was a surprising top-10 pick in 2019 when GM Dave Gettleman selected him No. 6 overall. While he began his rookie season as Eli Manning's backup, the former Duke star ultimately started 12 games, and given the mostly low expectations for him, Jones performed admirably.
Now, with the fate of the Giants firmly in his hands, let's explore everything about his environment with the G-men and what Jones needs to do to take the next step as a quarterback.
How he's from improved from days as a prospect
These positive developments in a quarterback's game are noteworthy because they indicate the distinct possibility of future growth.
Here's a snippet ofbefore the draft, and my comparison for him was Josh McCown:
"Smart, good arm, decently accurate to all levels but antsy under pressure and can be somewhat easily baited into making bad decisions."
I mostly saw that summary play out during Jones' rookie year in the NFL. He finished with the in my season-long evaluation of all the plays of first- and second-year quarterbacks (sixth if you don't want to count Drew Lock, who only played five contests). While Jones mainly hovered in the respectable grade range each week, he had two "D" performances and one "A."
Compared to the seemingly constant pressure he saw in his final season at Duke -- and the bad habits that formed because of that -- Jones improved under duress, and some of his best throws of the year came with a defender bearing down on him. Also, while not a significant improvement, Jones was more accurate down the field with the Giants in 2019 than he was in his final season with the Blue Devils.
The Giants' skill-position group is almost completely unchanged from a year ago, with veteran back Dion Lewis the only notable addition made in the draft or free agency. However, New York invested heavily up front. Swing tackle Cameron Fleming was signed in March before Gettleman tripled up on offensive linemen in the draft, a decision highlighted by No. 4 overall selection tackle Andrew Thomas from Georgia. The long and athletic tackle Matt Peart was picked in Round 3, and guard Shane Lemieux was drafted two rounds later.
While Thomas was somewhat of a surprise at No. 4 overall, his film was clean the past two seasons in the SEC, he's an explosive athlete with a prototypical franchise tackle build. Hard to find aspects of his game not to like. Peart might get the project label, but to me, he just has to get bigger. The technical side of his game is outstanding. And he's a long-limbed monster too. I truly believe he'll be a good right tackle for many years in the NFL. Lemieux is the handyman every team wants on the interior of its offensive line.
After getting pressured on 42% of his dropbacks in 2019 -- one of the highest figures in the NFL -- Jones should be better protected in Year 2, a calming thought for any young passer. His receivers weren't bad, and an upgrade or two wouldn't have hurt, yet with Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram and of course Saquon Barkley out of the backfield, Jones' group of skill-position players is reasonably good.
Out is Pat Shurmur and his West Coast offense. In is Jason Garrett and his more vertical-based Air Coryell scheme. Garrett will design deep shots for Jones more frequently than Shurmur did.
And while Jones' quick release and accuracy to the short levels of the field -- skills honed in David Cutcliffe's system at Duke -- hinted at a perfect match for Shurmur's offense, I do think Jones flashed enough down the field as a rookie that he could operate Garrett's more aggressive system well.
Improving his weaknesses
Jones' most glaring problem in Year 1 came by way of being careless with the football. He led the league with 18 fumbles. Per Football Outsiders, Jones threw 18 adjusted interceptions (not counting tipped/Hail Mary picks but adding passes dropped by the defense to the interception total), which tied for the seventh-highest in the NFL.
A nice chunk of those costly (or nearly costly) plays came after Jones was rushed from the pocket or simply felt pressure mounting in it, which led to him attempting to do too much, like throwing off balance or forcing the football late when a throwaway or even a sack would've been more beneficial to the Giants offense.
Based on my evaluations, managing pressure is the most challenging hurdle for young quarterbacks. Jones either has to get quicker with his processing to find hot reads and checkdowns faster (which seems to be the most feasible improvement for young passers), rein in his tendency to "overextend" plays, instead learning to throw the ball away, or drift inside the pocket more calmly (which seems to be most challenging for young passers to improve).
Strengthening his strengths
Taking the next step as a quarterback in the NFL isn't solely bound to improving weaknesses, mostly because improving weaknesses at the pro level is quite difficult for any player, particularly those playing the most demanding position in the game.
The enhancement of strengths can catapult a quarterback to new heights.
And Jones showed more moxie -- and precise accuracy -- on tight-window throws as a rookie than he did at Duke, especially at the intermediate level and down the field. Jones had Next Gen Stats' third-highest Aggressiveness % among qualifying passers, a metric that measures the rate at which quarterbacks throw a pass "where there is a defender within one yard or less of the receiver at the time of completion or incompletion." Per NGS, 22.4% of his throws were into that tight coverage last season.
And per PFF, Jones was a tick above average in "big-time throws" on passes to the intermediate (10-19 yards) and downfield (20-plus yards) range in 2019, reassuring facts for such a youthful quarterback.
Building on the reasonably effective aggressive style with which he played as a rookie would be super valuable to the Giants offense, and after finishing near the middle of pack in NGS's Intended Air Yards (8.1 yards), Jones should -- and likely will -- take more deep shots in Year 2.
Jones also performed well off play-action, where he had, per Sports Info Solutions, a 113.4 rating on such plays, the 12th-highest figure in football among quarterbacks who attempted at least 20 play-action passes in 2019. He threw nine touchdowns to just two picks on play-action passes. Those plays have to be a featured part of the offense for Jones in Garrett's offense.
Given the immense depth in the receiver draft class, I would've liked to see New York pick a wideout in April. But, given Jones' turnover tendency as a rookie, I love that Gettleman tripled up on offensive linemen, and more specifically, I like the blockers he selected. Thomas, Peart, and Lemieux should boost the competition up front and help Barkley run with more effectiveness, which in turn will give Jones more open looks off play-action and down the field with a safety having to commit to the box more frequently.
Per NGS, Barkley only saw eight more more defenders in the box on 11.5% of his runs last season, the eighth-lowest rate in league, but his yards-per-attempt average dropped simply because the Giants' offensive line struggled.
Even though Jones made some really good throws against pressure last year, I still worry about his long-term outlook in that situation because the impressive under-duress tosses were far outweighed by the bad decisions, inaccurate passes to all levels, and atrocious ball security.
I expect Jones to take a small step forward behind what should be a better blocking unit, and in Garrett's scheme, we should see more big-play opportunities from the former first-round pick. However, Jones' pocket management or processing needs to get better or his turnover-prone tendencies will negate the splash plays and keep him from becoming a quarterback who can lead the Giants back to NFC East contention.