At field level, it is easier to see why the Giants selected Daniel Jones to be their quarterback. He has the size for the old-school demands of the pocket, and the athleticism for the new-school demands around the edge. Eli Manning only wished he could move in space the way his successor can.
The other day in practice, Jones made a long throw to Kenny Golladay that looked like something ripped from the Aaron Rodgers playbook. It was a picture-perfect pass down the right sideline, over the top of cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. Golladay won the battle in the air for the catch and barely got two feet down right in front of a small gathering of scribes.
The Giants’ deposed general manager, Dave Gettleman, had no clue how to build a winning football team. But he was willing to take the heat he took for drafting the Duke quarterback No. 6 overall in 2019 because he saw these tools at work.
So as Jones enters his fourth season as the Giants’ franchise player-to-be, as the 6-foot-5 guy who kinda looks and kinda acts and kinda talks like the 6-5 Eli, but definitely doesn’t win like him, he has no excuses not to become a reliable NFL starter. He has taken thousands of snaps in practices and in games, and he has seen pretty much everything defensive coordinators have to offer.
Jones is now being protected by two tackles taken in the top seven picks of their respective drafts. He is now working with a healthy Saquon Barkley, and with some elusive targets on the outside, and with a head coach who has spent quality time around Tom Brady, Brett Favre, and Josh Allen, and who has his current receivers all excited about his pre-snap motion and post-snap freedom.
Jones is also working with Patrick Mahomes’s creative tutor, Mike Kafka, as opposed to Jason Garrett and Freddie Kitchens, which most football people would consider … ahem … a slight upgrade.
Nobody is saying that the Giants should make the playoffs this year, or that Jones should become another Mahomes or Allen, or that he should even hurdle Dak Prescott to be the best quarterback in the NFC East. But he should at least show enough improvement and — now that his neck has healed — enough durability to give his team a reasonable chance to win almost every week.
“Or else” would seem the most appropriate words to follow that statement, but they aren’t necessary. Rookie general manager Joe Schoen has already told his quarterback “or else” by declining to pick up his fifth-year option. Jones has to be ballin’ right away, or he could lose his job before Halloween. The Giants went from having one of the worst backups in the league (Mike Glennon) to having one of the best (Tyrod Taylor) for a reason.
Before the Blue-White scrimmage and Fan Fest at MetLife Stadium on Friday night, Jones maintained that he is growing more comfortable with yet another new offense every day. Asked if he felt that head coach Brian Daboll had already started the process of getting the best out of him, Jones said: “Going into year four, I think I’m a more experienced player. I think I’m a better player than in years past, so I feel more comfortable from that standpoint in diagnosing what I’m seeing and making decisions.
“As it relates to this offense and this scheme, I think it gives the quarterback a lot of options and allows for a quarterback to use what he knows and distribute the ball based on that. … It’s been fun working with Coach Daboll and his staff and working in this offense.”
On his first drive Friday night, Jones nearly threw a pick-six, hit Wan’Dale Robinson over the middle for a big gain, held the ball too long, and ran for a 27-yard touchdown. In other words, it was the full DJ experience.
We’ll see how it goes from here. Last week, Jones spoke of the liberating impact of a Daboll offense that “puts guys in a lot of different spots, disguises things, reveals defenses.” He described the system as helpful to a quarterback.
Great. Daboll has an obligation to put his most important player in a position to succeed, something previous Giants coaches failed to do. At the same time, Jones has to help himself.
Giants co-owner John Mara said that the organization had “done everything possible to screw this kid up since he’s been here.” But too much has been said and written about how the Giants have failed Jones, and not enough has been said and written about how Jones has failed the Giants.
For starters, he has to stay healthy and give his team 15 or 16 starts. Daboll said the Giants are doing everything they can to protect Jones, including instruction on when to get down and avoid hits on the run. But Jones has to help Jones too, and protect himself. Manning showed up every Sunday, his best ability being his availability. It’s time for Jones to be a full-time employee.
More than anything, it’s time for Jones to show why the Giants drafted him in the first place.
He has the size, the arm, the speed, the experience, and enough support to be a productive mid-level starter player in the NFL. Jones just called himself a better player than he has been to date. He has no good excuse this season to be anything but.