The Arizona Cardinals won five games in 2019 and have not had a winning season in four years, but some believe they're primed not only to break out in 2020 but become one of the NFL's top teams over the next decade. The No. 1 reason: Kyler Murray. Last year's No. 1 overall draft pick had a promising debut as Arizona's signal-caller, setting multiple franchise records and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year as a dual-threat weapon. It's no surprise, then, that Murray is a widespread favorite to do even more damage in Year 2, much like superstars Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson also stole the spotlight in their sophomore campaigns.
What if, however, there's another second-year quarterback who's just as, if not more, likely to enjoy an MVP-level breakout? And what if he happens to play for the New York Giants?
To no fault of his own, Daniel Jones entered the Big Apple as the subject of much debate and even some ridicule, largely because of general manager Dave Gettleman's iffy track record and the Giants' unceremonious transition out of the Eli Manning era. But the Duke product, who went five spots after Murray in the 2019 draft, probably isn't getting nearly as much hype as he deserves going into his own encore. No one in their right mind would draft Jones over Murray in fantasy football, and few would advocate for Jones over Murray in real life, but that doesn't change the reality: Jones could very easily be 2020's better up-and-coming QB.
Let's start by quickly reviewing Jones' rookie-year performance, which frankly hasn't been lauded enough. You can make an argument that because there was so much skepticism about where he went in the draft, Jones was especially an overachiever in 2019, but even if you completely ignore the expectations, the numbers don't lie.
In 13 games, 12 of which he started, the 23-year-old QB posted 3,027 yards, 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and an 87.7 passer rating, completing nearly 62 percent of his throws. Right off the bat, that means Jones came within four TD passes of breaking the all-time rookie record, which Baker Mayfield set in 2018.
But the game has changed! Everyone throws tons of TDs now! Well, not everyone (unless you're Patrick Mahomes). Just for comparison, here's how Jones' rookie numbers, extrapolated over 16 games, stack up against the extrapolated 16-game stats of other notable young QBs (excluding Mahomes, for obvious reasons) during their rookie seasons:
Prescott might jump off the page in this comparison, but unlike the rest of the QBs here, he actually took a step back in his second season (before rebounding in a big way in 2019). Every other QB here, outside of Jones' fellow second-year man, Kyler Murray, had a massive leap forward in the season that followed. Basically, the question this should pose is: Why on Earth would Daniel Jones not be in the conversation for a breakout? And what on Earth makes Murray that much more of a lock to explode?
This, of course, is where we can't ignore Jones' NFL-leading 18 fumbles as a rookie. That can't happen again. But guess what? Carson Wentz led the NFL with 14 fumbles as a rookie. Lamar Jackson led the NFL with 15 fumbles as a rookie. Nobody's saying that poor ball protection is a predictor of future QB stardom, but let's not pretend that Jones coughing up the rock behind a mediocre offensive line as a first-year QB negates everything else he did -- you know, like the 26 TDs (including rushing) in 12 starts.
Let's also consider the circumstances. Murray was crowned the face of the franchise from the day he was drafted, united with a coach in Kliff Kingsbury who'd spent nearly a decade recruiting his QB. Jones was ushered in out of Eli Manning's shadow while arguably his top three weapons -- RB Saquon Barkley, WR Sterling Shepard and TE Evan Engram -- practically limped through the season, all while operating under the scattershot offensive direction of coach Pat Shurmur.
That certainly doesn't mean Murray is any less likely to break out in 2020; he's also a dynamic threat on the ground, and it's hard to look at his supporting cast, from DeAndre Hopkins to Kenyan Drake to Larry Fitzgerald, and not get excited. But to ignore Jones in this conversation is to understate the upside he's already flashed.
Now set to be uncorked under new coordinator Jason Garrett, who was a successful pass-heavy play-caller before getting bogged down by managerial duties in Dallas, Jones still has a strong set of weapons if they can stay healthy -- Barkley is a top-three RB, Darius Slayton has emerged as a legitimate big-play threat out wide, and Golden Tate remains a strong No. 2 WR. (You might even be able to argue that left tackle Nate Solder opting out of the 2020 season is more good news for Jones, depending on the progress of first-round pick Andrew Thomas.) His supporting cast, in fact, is probably the biggest reason someone like Gardner Minshew isn't also a major breakout contender; because as poor as the Giants have been, they're still not the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Are Jones' Giants good enough, as a whole, to propel him into the actual MVP race? That's a long shot. And truth be told, if Murray's Cardinals are challenging for an NFC West title while New York is spending the playoffs at home for the eighth time in the last nine years, well, no one's going to have any trouble declaring Arizona's QB the true breakout of 2020. Just know that if 2019 was any indication, Jones very much belongs on any radar scanning for the NFL's next hot young talent under center.