Hello, Giants fans! Today I'm kicking off my draft season with my first in depth piece of the year. Since I began teaching and coaching my life has become pretty hectic, so I can't promise more than one or two of these pieces a year, but I really do enjoy putting these together!
My subject for this piece is none other than Daniel Jones, Duke's Senior Quarterback with three years of starting experience under his belt at the college level.
Jones is a hotly debated prospect this season, and it's for that reason that I've decided to give him an in depth watch. I watched all but one of Jones' starts this season, with Wake Forest being the only exception. Outside of that game, I've seen every snap of Jones' 2018 campaign.
Stats & System
I'm going to start here because this will lay the groundwork for what we're going to see when we look at the tape with Jones. For the most part I don't much care about stats in college. Unless we have outliers in one extreme or the other a lot of stats can be twisted or explained away by someone with previously set convictions
One stat that I do want to talk about is Daniel Jones' YPA, or Yards Per (Pass) Attempt. Because quite frankly his is terrible. Let's just work with his 2018 number, because honestly that helps him out. His 2018 YPA is 6.8 while his career YPA is 6.4. Most of that is due to an atrocious 2017 where he clocked a 5.9 YPA. He didn't even crack six yards per pass attempt at the college level as a Junior!
Let's compare that to Kyler Murray (11.6), Dwayne Haskins (9.1), and Drew Lock (8.0). These are Daniel Jones' main competition in this year's draft so they'll be our points of reference.
It's not good that Jones isn't within a yard of any of these guys. Even in his best year as a starter, and his third year in the same system, Jones couldn't crack 7 YPA.
The reason I harp on this is only because it's evident on film. I didn't even think to really look at Daniel Jones' YPA until I did his preseason evaluation this past season. I noticed that everything he was throwing was insanely short. So I checked the YPA and sure enough he had a terrible YPA. So I kept an eye on him this year, and while he did almost make a yard's worth of improvement, it's still not good enough.
Now a lot of this has to do with the system that Daniel Jones plays in, and this dovetails in nicely with the statistical discussion. After watching almost every game of Jones' Senior season one of my biggest takeaways is that this guy is not ready to run an NFL system as a rookie. Now I'm not saying he can't or won't make strides, but his offense at Duke was such a hand-holding, training wheels type offense that it's pretty discouraging when you consider he was a three year starter and still had to be in a quick read system.
A simple breakdown of Duke's offense is that it's a one read, RPO system that relies heavily on quick reads, quick throws, and long drives. There are times where Duke will go for the homerun ball after lulling the defense into a short game pattern, but what I found crazy was that they hardly ever threw intermediate routes. Anything 10-15 yards was pretty much non-existent in the Duke offense.
People have praised Daniel Jones for making quick reads and getting the ball out of his hand lightning fast, but that wasn't really much of Jones' choice, it was the design of the offense. And there are some largely inherent issues with this, namely being it means Jones has little experience reading the field for himself outside of one or two keys a play.
Let's take a look at what happens when defenses key in on quick game offenses
Play One: Tipped Balls
When teams know a QB likes to get the ball out of his hands as soon as possible, Defensive Coordinators tend to coach their Defensive Line to get their hands up. Defenders know that where the QB's eyes go, the ball goes. In fact, as a high school OL coach, one of my main coaching points to my Tackles is to engage the EDGE players quickly and keep their hands down. Otherwise plays like the one above happen.
Play Two: One Read is too limiting
Again, Jones locks into a target here, believing that Wake Forest is playing off-man coverage. If Jones is in a three year habit of locking on to a receiver and not moving his eyes across the field, simple disguised zones such as the one that the defense runs here will destroy him at the NFL level. We all know the game gets more complex as you move up, and it shows time and time again that the more complex parts of the game still stump Jones.
Take his game against UVA for example. Jones was sacked a ton that game, in part because his Offensive Line is not good, but also in part because their blitz schemes were exotic. Jones had no clue where defenders were going to be and it shook him up bad. The next week Duke began to run a lot more empty sets, spreading defenses even thinner than their traditional RPO spread, and Jones reads became even more simplistic. Really, go watch the UVA game and then watch his next game against Pitt. A lot of his success against Pitt occurs because Duke dials back their offense even more, and basically the whole 1st Quarter of football is ran out of a five wide set in effort to spread Pitt thin and not allow extra blitzers to rush Jones.
Just for good measure here's one more example of how his offense has put Jones at a disadvantage as a prospect
Jones' head never moves and he locks on way too early, despite having a defender over top and underneath. When people say Jones is safe with the ball, that's not exactly the truth. The offense is super safe, but Jones isn't consciously aware of protecting the ball. He's just throwing where he's told to by dictation of his scheme.
Tools and Traits
Now we're going to move on and look at what Daniel Jones is working with in terms of arm talent and traits in general.
Let's start with something good, since the section above was pretty harsh.
I really like Jones' short accuracy. He made a couple throws in the endzone like this one that make you perk up. His ability to throw at the back pylon and only give his guy a chance at the ball is pretty great. Like I said, this isn't the only time Jones makes a throw like this. The way that ball drops in is beautiful.
Moving on however, let's look below. One of my bigger question marks with Jones is his arm strength, however after sifting through the tape I'm not entirely sure that's what's in question.
There is not enough zip on this throw, and we see this a bit with Jones. He'll wobble out some passes and put a little too much air under them, and it leads to better defenders being able to break on the underneath stuff that Duke loves to run like what happens in the play above. It should also be noted that most of this game was played in a massive rain storm, so I'm willing to cut Jones a good bit of slack here.
But let's look at that deep ball.
Again, too much loft on this ball. His receiver has the double coverage beat, and less air and more zip places this ball right in the bread basket. Not sure it would have went for a Touchdown, but that's a huge play regardless. The receiver very evidently slows down and it allows the defender to catch up and make a play on the ball as it arrives.
But this isn't always the case.
This is a great ball in the same game, Jones hitting his receiver in stride and it's a beautiful ball really. And his receiver absolutely does not help him out here, and that can be somewhat of a theme throughout the season. However keep in mind that after watching a majority of Jones' snaps this year that this is about 50/50. Sometimes Jones hinders his receivers from being able to make plays, and sometimes the Duke receivers don't step up.
However I do not believe that Jones can lean on the crutch of "his receivers don't make plays". I won't link them, because I don't want this piece to become an essay, but there are a number of examples of Duke players taking a short ball to the house. In particular Duke's T.J. Rahming was a burner, who averaged 10.8 YPC largely because he had YAC ability. His long for the year was an 85 yard ripper that he took to the house. So I'm not down with the argument that Jones didn't have more statistical success because his receivers weren't talented.
Now let's move on to one last thing I'll touch on, which is how Daniel Jones operates in the pocket
This play above is one of my favorite Daniel Jones plays from this season. It's nothing magical, but he takes his time, does a little bit of scanning (which he did a lot more of in this bowl game against Temple) and delivers an accurate pass with some zip despite taking a big hit from a defender.
And I will give Jones effusive praise when it comes to hanging in the pocket. It's probably my favorite trait of his. He took some licks against Clemson and UVA yet he kept getting up and delivering throws. He doesn't really shirk away from contact and he'll still step into his throws pretty consistently. That's a great trait to have, it can help extend drives and neutralize blitzes and a strong pass rush. However you usually want this trait to go hand in hand with the ability to read the field and play the numbers game, placing the ball where the defense lacks a player because they decided to send an extra rusher or two. Jones did a great job of doing this against Temple but it's plays like this where it all comes together that are few and far between in his regular season tape.
Believe it or not, I had to cut a lot out of this report. There's a lot of other small things that I picked up on that I could go on and on about, but I'll spare you.
I will wrap up by saying that for my money, Daniel Jones is not a first round prospect. Especially if you're expecting him to come in and earn the start from year one. This seems like a bad idea to me. He's got minimal experience scanning and reading the field, and while his overall traits are intriguing, he's not solid enough or consistent enough for those traits to neutralize the question marks that surround him. Josh Allen got drafted because he has a howitzer and Buffalo thought his traits were worth investing in. While Jones has a decent arm, it's not special. And because of that, I don't see teams wanting to invest a first round pick in him unless it's a late first with the intention of sitting him and working on getting him coached up to an NFL level for a couple of years while a Brady or a Brees wraps up their career.
Thanks for reading, and I'd love to hear from you guys in the comments. Let me know what you think and I'll gladly answer any and all questions you may have!