At this point in Daniel Jones' NFL career, it's justifiable to feel indifferent about him. He's neither been a bust of a first-round pick nor a clear franchise signal-caller, and now he's entering the vital Year 3 on a team with a much-improved roster from a season ago.
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 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 of Josh McCown:before the draft, and my comparison for him was
"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 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."in my season-long evaluation of all the plays of first- and second-year quarterbacks (sixth if you don't want to count
In Year 2, after an admirable but unspectacular debut season in the pros, Jones was mostly the same quarterback. While there wasn't a clear dip in his play, he did not take a step forward in his maturation process.
Jones began his career with a severe ball-security problem. He led the league with 18 fumbles as a rookie then threw 18 adjusted interceptions -- which are explained by Football Outsiders here -- which were the seventh-most in the NFL in 2019. While he again led the league in fumbles, his number dipped to 11 in 2020, and his 12 adjusted interceptions demonstrated an improvement in that category too.
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GM Dave Gettleman wants to be absolutely positive he knows what he has in Jones by the end of this season, probably because if Jones doesn't take off, the longtime GM will probably be out of a job.
Kenny Golladay was signed in free agency. When healthy, he's a serious No. 1 wideout and one of the best deep-ball wideouts in the game because of his contested-catch capabilities. After the first trade back in Gettleman's career as a GM, New York picked jet-sweep, bubble-screen, gadget-style weapon Kadarius Toney in the first round of the draft to round out the offense and bolster what comes of short tosses made by Jones.
Kyle Rudolph was added at tight end, and fliers were taken on early-round busts Dante Pettis and John Ross at receiver. Even with the loss of Golden Tate, this is the most talent the Giants have had at receiver in at least a decade.
Oh, and unicorn Saquon Barkley, who tore his ACL in Week 2, will be back. Giddy up for what, on paper, looks like a fun, diverse group of weapons at Jones' disposal.
Jason Garrett and his vertical-based Air Coryell didn't get off to a rousing start. The Giants finished 26th in Football Outsiders offensive DVOA in 2020.
Also, the smartest, most efficient offenses are throwing the football early and often. More specifically, on first down even in tight games. Last year, with Garrett calling the plays, the Giants finished the regular season with the eighth-lowest first-down pass rate in neutral situations (scoring margin between -8 and +8 points). Not encouraging.
Improving his weaknesses
There really isn't one area in which Jones distinctly struggled in 2020. He just didn't specialize in any one area either. He hovered right around average in just about every quarterbacking category.
If I had to pinpoint one, ultra-specific component of Jones' game that was more noticeably disappointing than normal, it was his play on throws to the intermediate range. From 10 to 19 yards down the field, Jones did not throw a touchdown while tossing four interceptions at a minuscule 8.18 yards-per-attempt average. And, no, that's not good? It ranked 29th out of 35 qualifying passers.
There's not one reason why this occurred, and with a stronger group of pass-catching options, Jones should be more effective at the ever-important intermediate range in 2021.
Strengthening his strengths
For the second-straight season, Daniel Jones morphed into Danny Dimes down the field. He was on target on 51% of his tosses 20-plus yards downfield, nine percentage points higher than league average. On those launches -- six touchdowns, no interceptions, a 15.43 yards-per-attempt average (8th in the NFL), and a passer rating of 132.5, which dwarfed the league average of 100.9.
Golladay is an elite downfield target. Darius Slayton and his 4.39 speed can take the top off a defense. Toney ran 4.38 at the Florida pro day. Jones has the ingredients to take yet another step as a downfield specialist.
The Giants' brutal offensive line held Jones back in 2020. Simple as that. He hit the 40% pressure-rate mark for the second-consecutive year in the NFL, and like most young quarterbacks, it was a challenge for him to even reach league-average marks in statistical categories under that much pressure.
Fortunately for Jones, 2020 first-round left tackle Andrew Thomas looked transformed down the stretch. Nate Solder returns from his opt-out, but he was borderline awful in 2019 on the outside. Keep an eye on 2020 third-round selection Matt Peart. He has freaky upside at tackle.
Jones has exceeded my expectations in back-to-back seasons. He's a gamer with great feel for throwing the long ball and good athleticism to create outside of structure. He mostly works well underneath, getting it out quickly and accurately. And now Jones has a skill-position group in the top half of the league.
As what's become usual, Jones will flash. And this year, those flashes will be more frequent than they've been in the past. I just don't know if the Giants have done enough in the trenches to elevate Jones to a place where he flirts with top 10 or top 15 quarterback status.
New York will be more competitive than it was a season ago, and Jones will be considered in the upper level of the "serviceable" level of passers in today's NFL. The downfield strikes will help counteract what will be more unsteady play under pressure. I do believe Jones will play well enough to squelch ideas that he shouldn't be the Giants' starting quarterback in 2022.