When football fans look back at the 2019 NFL Draft class, only a few quarterbacks truly stand out.
Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray is the clear leader of the pack, and rightfully so when considering his status as the year’s first overall pick.
Others, like Washington QB Dwayne Haskins, Jacksonville Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew, and even Denver Broncos QB Drew Lock, have seen their respective stocks drop for a variety of reasons, whether it’s a poor offensive line, injuries, or a combination of both.
Then, there’s New York Giants QB Daniel Jones.
The sixth overall pick from the 2019 NFL Draft and the second quarterback taken off the board, Jones took over as the Giants’ starting quarterback in just the third week of the 2019 regular season, supplanting longtime Giants legend Eli Manning in the process.
Like many rookies, his first season came with its up’s and down’s, and the Giants finished the year with a 4-12 record, good enough for third place in the NFC East.
Manning then retired following the 2019 season, and handed the keys to the franchise over to a then-22-year-old from North Carolina.
While it’s easy to focus on the negatives from the Duke alum’s debut, like the team’s record and Jones’ turnover totals, fans in New York were left with plenty of reasons to be excited as the team’s new era got underway.
In fact, when looking back at Jones’ rookie campaign in comparison to some of the popular picks of past draft classes, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to believe in his ability to bring the Giants back to glory in this new decade.
Through his 13 games as a rookie, Jones tossed 24 touchdowns, and averaged 232.8 yards per game.
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen, an early MVP candidate in 2020 and a member of a solid 2018 NFL Draft class, didn’t reach that total in either of his first two years in the league. In fact, he didn’t reach even half of Jones’ total as a rookie, throwing 10 touchdowns in his first 12 games.
In his first full season as the Bills starter, Allen reached just 20 touchdown passes, two years before exploding for 21 in the first 10 games of 2020. The Wyoming alum averaged just 172.8 yards per game as a rookie and 193.1 yards per game as a sophomore, coming up at least 40 yards short of Jones’ rookie total in his best season.
Jones was also miles ahead of fellow MetLife Stadium resident Sam Darnold, who was the second quarterback taken in Allen’s 2018 class when the New York Jets selected him with the third overall pick.
Darnold beat out Allen as it relates to completions and completion percentage as a rookie, putting up 273 total completions with a 61.9 completion percentage.
How did Jones stack up? He recorded 11 more completions with an equal completion rate, threw five more touchdowns, and averaged 12 more passing yards per game than the Jets quarterback, who had one more start as a rookie.
Jones even looked better than Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky, the first quarterback selected in a historic 2017 NFL Draft class that included Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
Trubisky put up seven touchdowns and seven interceptions through his first 12 starts, and only in his second season as the Bears starter did the North Carolina alum come close to Jones’ numbers.
No, Jones wasn’t able to top Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield, the top choice from the 2018 NFL Draft who set a rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. But, the Giants QB came close to Murray, who threw four less touchdowns than Jones in four more starts while picking up just one more win for the Cardinals as a rookie.
With all that said, it’s clear that Jones has the potential to be a top-tier quarterback in the NFL. So, why hasn’t that flight towards stardom really taken off yet?
For one, his turnovers emerged as a real problem through his first year and a half in the league.
He threw 12 interceptions in as many starts as a rookie, and had nine interceptions compared to eight touchdown passes through his first 10 starts of 2020. He fumbled 18 times in 2019, and recorded seven more through those first 10 starts of 2020, as well.
“The only thing that was a little frustrating last year were the turnovers, the fumbles,” Giants GM Dave Gettleman said before Jones’ sophomore season. “He had a solid rookie year. He did things that no other rookie quarterback has ever done. For some reason, I just feel like the fumbles have overshadowed all of that stuff.”
Half of the blame has to be put on Jones himself, who needs to build up his football IQ to know when he should take a sack and to tuck the ball and hold on for dear life when that time comes.
But, the other half can be put on Gettleman himself, along with the Giants coaching staff.
The team’s offensive line woes have been well documented throughout the years, and fans just have to look at Jones’ sack totals from the 2019 and 2020 seasons to get the gist. Jones was sacked 38 times in his 13 games as a rookie, and was taken down 31 more times through the first 10 games of 2020, as well.
The Giants’ 2.7 sacks allowed per game in 2019 were tied for 13th worst in the NFL, and their 3.1 sacks allowed per game were the sixth worst in the NFL through the first 10 games of 2020.
Add in the turnovers that Jones had that may have happened to avoid a sack, and the abrupt firing of Giants offensive line coach Marc Columbo, and things don’t look great when looking at the sophomore’s line of defense against the defensive line.
Giants fans have been clamoring for the team to invest more into their offensive line in recent years, and veteran offensive tackle Nate Solder’s opt-out due to COVID-19 didn’t help the team’s case, either. Give Jones a more concrete offensive line and more time in the pocket, and his numbers could shoot up in years to come.
The other issue comes when looking at who Jones has around him offensively, specifically as it relates to his running backs and wide receivers. The Giants lost star running back Saquon Barkley for the year after he tore his ACL in Week 2 against the Bears, and Jones lost a massive threat to work with in the process.
Instead, Jones has been left with Wayne Gallman behind him in the backfield, with a cast of receivers that includes Golden Tate, Darius Slayton and Sterling Shepard. Slayton and Shepard combined for just three touchdowns through the first 10 games of 2020, while Tate found himself involved in trade rumors with two touchdowns of his own.
Jones hasn’t even been able to consistently find tight end Evan Engram in the end zone, who has just one touchdown in 2020 in eight starts.
Through it all, Jones’ aggressiveness has been questioned by fans and media members, which Giants head coach Joe Judge was quick to shoot down when talking to reporters.
“I would disagree with that — I think he’s doing a lot of things aggressively,” Judge said in mid-November of 2020. “I think the way this guy stands in the pocket when the rush is collapsing on him at certain times or makes plays with his feet extending outside the pocket, the way he’s willing to pull the ball in some of the zone reads and run downfield and take a big hit. I see a lot of aggressiveness in Daniel, and I like the way he plays.”
The Giants found out the hard way that quality receiving threats are important when Barkley went down and the team was forced to pivot their offensive scheme.
If they want to give Jones the best chance to succeed, and the chance to not worry about the rush “collapsing on him” like Judge suggested, they would benefit from going after a top-tier wide receiver like Will Fuller IV, Allen Robinson, or even a star like JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2021.
Even with all of those issues, the Giants still found themselves in contention in the NFC East more than halfway through the 2020 NFL season. And, despite the 3-7 record through 10 games, Jones showed growth, emerging as more of a dual-threat quarterback in his sophomore season.
Jones threw just eight touchdowns through 10 games, but also recorded one rushing touchdown to go with 384 rushing yards, which is 105 more than he averaged in 2019 with four less attempts.
If Jones is able to hone in that dual-threat ability in the second half of 2020, and carry it into the 2021 season, the Giants could become a perennial contender in the NFC East.
“He continues to grow in the system, and I see him growing as a young quarterback, with his understanding of the whole big-picture situation of games,” Judge said on WFAN’s Boomer and Gio in November. “We’re trying to push this thing forward, and I see Daniel really embracing the big picture, and the guys respond to him. That’s the biggest thing. When he steps in the huddle, guys believe in him. He’s doing everything he can to help this team, and that gives us coaches a lot of confidence.”
The key to it all, however, will be a commitment from the Giants to their investment in Jones, rather than jumping at the chance to draft a quarterback like Trevor Lawrence, along with consistency and constant improvement from their potential franchise quarterback.
The most important piece of a player’s development is the understanding that there is always room to get better, and Jones seems to grasp that concept as he works through the kinks of his sophomore season.
“I’m not sure about how I’d label myself or I’m not sure how productive that is for me to do,” Jones said in November of 2020. “I certainly understand there’s lots of areas in my game that I need to improve on.”
If Jones is able to improve on all of those areas of his game that he needs to work on, similar to Josh Allen’s progression through his first three years in Buffalo, the sky is the limit for him and the Giants for years to come.
And, if he’s able to live up to that potential that he showcased throughout his rookie season, there’s no reason why he couldn’t evolve into one of the league’s best quarterbacks in the long run.