Daniel Jones was booed at the MetLife Stadium New York Giants 2019 NFL Draft party, and just four months later, those same fans were voting in Twitter polls, calling up WFAN radio, and going to bat for him to replace Eli Manning as the starter. It has been quite the roller coaster ride for Jones since he was drafted. Prior to Week 3, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur pulled the trigger and named Jones the starter. In his NFL debut, Jones led (18-point deficit) for a rookie in his debut in NFL history and the Giants' largest comeback win since 1970. These were just a few of in his first start.
It has been a roller coaster ride for Jones over the last several months as he went from fringe first-round draft pick to arguably the most highly criticized top-10 pick (No. 6 overall) in the last decade. As the 2019 NFL Draft drew closer, it became clear the Giants were in the mix to select Jones with one of their first-round draft picks (No. 6, No. 17 overall). Just hours before the draft got underway, NFL Network lead draft analyst and former NFL scout (for multiple teams) Daniel Jeremiah predicted the Giants would draft Jones. Long-tenured NFL national reporter Peter King joined him in this prediction in his final mock draft.
Then, it happened. The Giants didn't wait until No. 17 -- they didn't trade back -- they used No. 6 overall on Jones. In the months that have passed, Jones has gone from the poster boy of everything wrong with the Giants' franchise under Dave Gettleman and Pat Shurmur to its potential savior. In the following piece, we'll break down Jones' windy path with the Giants and how we got to where we are now.
The Godfather of NFL scouting compares Jones to Peyton Manning
Just days before the draft, NJ.com's Ryan Dunleavy caught up with Gil Brandt -- the godfather of modern scouting -- a man who was in charge of running the Dallas Cowboys' personnel operation for years before becoming an analyst. During their conversation, Brandt made a statement that created a headline, but now looking back, probably not as much buzz as it should have. Brandt compared Jones -- who was still viewed at the time as a fringe first-round prospect -- to one of the NFL's all-time greatest quarterbacks. Brandt made this comparison after extensive film study.
"I. Love. Dan Jones," Brandt said, per Ryan Dunleavy of NJ.com. "I have to say this carefully: When you watch him and you go back (20) years and watch Peyton Manning, you are watching the same guy. He's athletic. He doesn't have a rocket for an arm, but neither did Peyton. Very smart."
Jones gets booed at the Giants' MetLife draft party
Immediately after the Giants selected Jones at No. 6, an infamous photo of the mega-fan known as License Plate Guy circulated on social media.
His concerns with the pick were shared by the majority of the fanbase judging by the snap reaction on social media. The most ruthless reaction came from Giants fans who had convened at MetLife Stadium for the official draft party. In a NSFW video, fans booed loudly when they heard the news -- even louder than when they found out the franchise selected quarterback Phil Simms in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft.
Jones shows leadership at rookie minicamp
When the Giants selected wide receiver Darius Slayton in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, they knew it would take some time for him to make an impact. Slayton dealt with dropped passes and he wasn't targeted heavily during his collegiate career at Auburn. Still, the Giants drafted him for a reason -- 6-foot-1 and 190-pound wide receiver has all the athleticism in the world -- 4.39 speed and 135-inch broad jump at The Combine. Slayton struggled with drops at the beginning of rookie minicamp, but Jones continued to pepper him with targets in anticipation of building a rapport that could carry over whenever they finally got an opportunity to play together in the preseason and ultimately the regular season.
"We talked through a few of the plays,'' Jones said after the rookie minicamp when asked of Slayton's struggles with dropped passes. "I certainly made a few mistakes there, too. I've got to protect him.'"
When the Giants wrapped up OTAs in June, head coach Pat Shurmur called Slayton the most improved player on the roster at any position. Jones played a roll in helping Slayton get over the hump, regain his confidence, and play up to his potential. In their first appearance together during Week 3 of the regular season, in a victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the duo connected 3 of 5 targets for 82 yards receiving.
Jones garners national recognition after full-team minicamp
The rookie put together a strong string of practices during the rookie minicamp, but he was put to the test over the next several weeks during the full-team minicamp. It didn't take long for Jones to shine again. He quickly moved into the No. 2 quarterback role, taking reps behind Eli Manning with Slayton and the second-team offense.
Jones' performance during full-team minicamp was so impressive, CBS Sports' Senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco called for the bandwagon to mobilize.
"Daniel Jones has been outstanding today for the Giants — twitter cult go nuts," Prisco Tweeted.
Prisco was in attendance for the entirety of the Giants' minicamp and came away thinking Jones is the real deal. He was joined by Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier, who was also in attendance at minicamp. Tanier made the claim (which seemed bold at the time) that Jones was already the Giants' best option at the quarterback position.
Engram pinpoints Jones' confidence, mental processing
Following the conclusion of OTAs and prior to the start of training camp, Giants tight end Evan Engram was impressed with how fast Jones processed head coach Pat Shurmur's offensive system.
"He's picking up [the offense] really fast," Engram said after minicamp, via NJ Advance Media. "They've been trying to throw some stuff at him and he's handled it really well."
Engram also noted how Jones' confidence was growing and how it translated on the field.
"You can see him getting confident," Engram said at the Landon Collins Charity softball game, via NJ Advance Media. "Anytime you're coming in as a rookie, you're going to be a little shaky or a little nervous. You kind of see him starting to brush that off, get into his groove and take advantage of everything he's given."
Shula declares Jones NFL game ready
Jones' progression through minicamp was so evident that offensive coordinator Mike Shula was ready to deem him "NFL ready" prior to the start of training camp. This is further evidence the Giants have been confident for a very long time that Jones would be able to make a positive impact at the NFL level in the regular season when given his first opportunity to do so.
"I think he'd be ready to go," Shula told reporters, via SNY's Ralph Vacchiano. "He has that capability."
Jones gets booed at Yankee Stadium
It turns out Jones' impressive performance during Giants' OTAs and minicamp went largely unnoticed by the fanbase. Jones was present at Yankee Stadium for an evening game in June (after OTAs wrapped up and prior to training camp) when they hosted the Tampa Bay Rays, and according to multiple social media accounts, he was received a lukewarm reaction from the crowd that included a smattering of boos. This faction of the fanbase remained unsold.
The skeptics were starting to see it prior to the preseason
Chris Mortensen has been covering the NFL for longer than some Giants fans have been following it, so when he has a scoop, we tend to take it with more than just a grain of salt. According to Mortensen, the same people who heavily criticized the Giants for using the No. 6 pick on Jones are now saying he's the real deal after observing his progression throughout OTAs.
"What's interesting to me is that even the skeptics about taking Daniel Jones at No. 6 overall are now, after watching him, saying he's the real deal," Mortensen said, via ESPN's 'Get Up' TV program.
Giants also knew something special was brewing
The Giants obviously loved Jones to use the No. 6 overall pick on him, but it's also possible they weren't aware of his ceiling at the time. Sometimes, you need to see a player on an NFL practice field, with NFL teammates, before you can gauge his upside. NFL analyst and former quarterback Chris Simms shared insight from his conversations with those inside the Giants' organization prior to the start of the preseason.
"As I started to hear (positive) reports, and things go by, you talk to people. I talked to a few people with the Giants who just gave these glowing responses about Daniel Jones," Simms said, via NBC Sports.
"I told you I heard things before this press conference with Pat Shurmur about Daniel Jones -- he's doing well," Simms said. "The first few people I talked to, I said this could be Giants propaganda -- I don't know about this. So I made some other calls to people who didn't have a vested interest in the situation. Some of the things that I heard -- 'best rookie we've ever had in here, he's been that impressive.'
Jones plays a nearly perfect preseason
Through his first three preseason games, including an extended look in the Giants' regular-season dress rehearsal against the Bengals, Jones was on a historical pace. In those three games, Jones completed 83.3% of passes and averaged 12.3 yards per attempt with a 140.3 passer rating. All three numbers were the best by any rookie quarterback in the preseason (minimum 30 attempts) since at least 2006, per NFL Research. That's right -- Jones' rookie preseason was better than Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield before him -- both of whom enjoyed strong statistical performances in their first set of exhibition games.
Jones only saw one offensive possession during the Giants' final preseason game against the Patriots, but he was a perfect 4 of 4 for 47 yards passing. He finished his preseason 29 of 34 for 416 yards passing and two touchdowns. The Giants didn't even tease Jones' ability as a runner during the preseason. They limited the play mix in order to keep Jones' ability on designed bootlegs, zone-read option plays, and other offensive concepts that utilize his athleticism a secret.
Jones leads a heroic comeback win in NFL debut
In his debut as the Giants' starter in Week 3, he led the largest comeback victory for the Giants' franchise since 1970. It was obvious right away a new era of Giants football was born. Jones got it done through the air (336 yards passing, two touchdowns, zero interceptions) and on the ground (28 yards rushing, two touchdowns). He allowed the Giants to add new elements to the offense including the zone-read option in the red zone -- a play where Jones decided to pull the ball and run in for a 7-yard touchdown run. His debut even included a 7-yard touchdown run on a fourth and 5 play during the game-winning drive with about 3 minutes remaining.
Jones became the first rookie in NFL history to have 300 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, and two rushing touchdowns in a single game. According to Scott Barrett, over the course of Pro Football Focus' history, there are 1,674 instances of a QB attempting at least 12 pressured pass attempts in a game and Jones is the first to ever record a perfect passer rating. Jones was pressured on a whopping 47% of his snaps. He completed 80% of his passes with a 158.3 QB rating.
Want more? I recapped all of.
Jones showed an excellent rapport with rookie Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram. It looked as if they had practiced together for years. In reality, the practice week leading up to Jones' debut was the first time he got more than a practice rep or two with any of those three core offensive skill position players he will now look to build a lasting rapport with.
But wait, there's more you need to see now
According to Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, after evaluating Jones' performance on game film, it might have been the single-best individual performance by any quarterback during the 2019 season thus far.
"We all know Daniel Jones got his 1st win 2day in dramatic fashion & that excites every Giants fan, but maybe more exciting after watching tape I thought his game was 1 of cleanest of ANY starting QB this year - in terms of making correct reads/throws... & IT WAS HIS 1ST START!" - via Warner's official Twitter.
Former NFL quarterback turned analyst Dan Orlovsky agreed that Jones essentially pitched a perfect game. During an appearance on ESPN's "Get Up" on Monday morning, Orlovsky raved about Jones' game film.
"The most impressive stuff was the confidence he played with," Orlovsky said. "Go back and watch the tape. He did not miss a single read. The ball doesn't go to the wrong place one time. He brought the moment to his level."
Don't say they didn't tell you so
One of the key aspects of Jones' dominant debut start was his ability to reset the pocket with his feet. Jones picked up multiple first downs with his feet in more ways than just when he ran for the first down. When Jones escaped the pocket, reset, and delivered 20-plus passing plays to Slayton, Saquon Barkley, and Shepard, it changed the complexity of the game. It also added a new element to the Giants' offensive attack that will be difficult for defenses to game plan for.
Jones' pocket poise also played a key role in the victory. The rookie quarterback did an excellent job of keeping his eyes downfield in spite of being pressured often. Jones got hit and got right back up. More importantly, he maintained his accuracy down the field when pressured (and hit).
These aspects of Jones' skillset come as no surprise to the two people most responsible for drafting him -- general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur.
"I just thought his pocket presence and his poise were really important to me," Gettleman said in his post-draft presser. "I've been saying it for a long time: if you can't consistently make plays from the pocket, you're not going to make it in the NFL. You'll be just another guy. You look at Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, they consistently make plays from the pocket. That's what this kid can do, and he is not by any stretch of the imagination an average athlete. He's a really good athlete. This kid can extend, make plays with his feet, buy time in the pocket. He's got feel. He really has all the things you're looking for."
Shurmur, who doesn't typically have as much to say as Gettleman, also pinpointed these aspects of Jones' skill set that stood out to the Giants.
"I knew by watching him play that he was tough," Shurmur said in his post-draft presser. "That's very high on the spectrum for me, is toughness, and Daniel has that.
"Here's a guy that has played a lot of football, but he's still very young, he's tough, he's competitive and he really has all of the things we are looking for. Good decision making, he has a sense of timing, he is an accurate passer, he's athletic and mobile, which is important in today's game. So we are thrilled about him."
This is only just the beginning of the Daniel Jones era. As he practices more often with the Giants' first-team offense, he will build a stronger rapport with his skill position players and with the offensive line. Jones will make his home debut against the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium in Week 4. You can be sure that he won't be received with the same greeting that was heard at the stadium during the team's draft party. More likely, the stadium will be rocking with a buzz that hasn't been present since the 2016 regular season.