Rome wasn’t built in a day, so any expectations that quarterback Daniel Jones, the New York Giants’ surprise No. 6 overall in this year’s draft is going to be game-ready by the time the Giants open up the 2019 campaign should be tempered by even the most optimistic of football minds.
But for all the hand wringing and concern over Jones and whether the Giants made a mistake, the young man got off to a positive start during the team’s rookie mini-camp in reaffirming the Giants’ beliefs that he has all the makings to be the next franchise quarterback.
“I thought he did a really good job,” said offensive coordinator Mike Shula. “The things that were different for him, and like any rookie, that we do that were different than he did at Duke. He was so well coached at Duke, but we’ll have a couple of little different things.
“We’ll be under center a little bit more than they were. The things that he was new to, you could see how quickly he picked them up,” he added.
“This is a very accomplished, talented and smart young man that gets it,” added head coach Pat Shurmur.
Shula was particularly impressed by Jones’ football IQ.
“He’s really smart. The way you tell that is not necessarily by, alone, how he is picking things up, but by the questions that he asks. You’ll say certain things, and then all of a sudden, you’ll get a question, and sometimes you forgot to be detailed in talking about it, and he’ll ask that question reminding you,” he said.
Despite the glowing reviews, two rookie minicamp practices conducted at a slower teaching pace can only tell the coaching staff so much.
Over the next few weeks, the coaches will get a better idea as to how quickly Jones is transitioning to life in the NFL.
In the meantime, I rounded up some of his college tape and broke it down using the five critical factors as taught by the Scouting Academy. I then used the Academy’s grading scale, which ranges from 1 (poor) to 7 (elite) to assign a grade to each of the critical factors.
(Note: The All-22 film is preferred when doing this type of analysis since it covers the entire field, but since there is no known NCAA All-22 service available for public consumption, I did the best I could with what I was able to see.)
Critical Factor No. 1: Athletic Ability
This factor covers a quarterback’s mobility, balance when being forced to throw off-balance, and agility, to name a few. And it is without a doubt in my mind Jones’ best quality.
Unlike Eli Manning, Jones can move north and south as well as he can east and west. In four year at Duke, he ran for 1,325 yards in 406 rushing attempts and scored 17 rushing touchdowns.
That kind of production would almost certainly invite some designed runs and scrambles be added to the Giants playbook for when Jones is under center.
Jones also does a very good job of resetting his feet when he’s forced to move — you don’t see him contort his body very much and he rarely throws the ball if he doesn’t have his feet on the ground, which helps ensure he has some force behind his throws.
He almost looks a little too comfortable when asked to throw off balance, which is a good thing. That trait that will no doubt help him in a league where the pocket isn’t always kept clean, and quarterbacks will soon have to learn that they’ll have to twist themselves in ways they didn’t realize were possible to make the plays.
Grade: 6 - Very Good
Critical Factor No. 2: Play Speed
This factor is about how quickly a quarterback reads, diagnoses and makes decisions. There can be no hesitation in his game, as having the slightest doubt usually means he’s going to be susceptible to a lot of incomplete passes and potential turnovers.
In Duke’s offense, Jones primarily went with his first read, and when he was asked to do that and keep his passes to within 10-15 yards, he more often than not had success.
When having to go to a second or third read, that’s when Jones didn’t play quite as fast as he’ll have to in this league. There were, at times, instances in which he appeared to take an unnecessary sack because it looked as though he took too long to decide where to go with the ball.
Obviously, at the NFL level, the offense won’t be a simple one-read type of deal. Jones will have to make multiple reads on any given play, including those down the field, and he will need to train himself to not only trust his protection but look at the entire field, something he didn’t appear to do as well in college.
This part of his game is going to take some time to develop. In addition to adjusting to the speed of the pro game, which is going to mandate faster decisions, Jones is going to have to find a whole new tempo at this level that is going to take some time to get used to.
Grade: 4 - Solid
Critical Factor No. 3: Play Strength
Typically this involves a player winning his 1-on-1 match-ups. In a quarterback’s case, play strength can also be evaluated on aspects such as how he reacts when being hit as he throws, getting himself out of sacks and tackles, and physically beating would-be tacklers when he scrambles.
There’s good news and bad news in this regard. The good news is that Jones, per Pro Football Focus’ draft guide, has an adjusted completion percentage of 58.3 percent against pressure but a 68 percent completion percentage against the blitz.
This is, again, because the offense he ran emphasized quick reads and quick throws. Also, because Jones, being a mobile quarterback, was able to get himself out of jams in which the pocket around him was being torn down, that helped him buy a little extra time.
The bad news is that Jones was inconsistent. At times he stepped up into the pocket with no fear of the rush coming at him. Then there were other times when he would take the sack if he sensed the pressure around him being too much or if he wasn’t sure if a receiver would work his way open down the field.
Grade: 4 - Solid
Critical Factor No. 4: Mental Processing/Awareness
A quarterback needs to be able to see as much of the field as possible and, in a matter of seconds, read defenses, understand the coverage and use good judgment in his decision making to avoid incomplete passes and/or turnovers.
Jones is almost like two different quarterbacks when asked to operate in the short and intermediate ranges vs. the deeper ranges.
He can pick apart the defense on the intermediate throws but ask him to anticipate and read the deep end of the defense, and that’s probably a reason behind Jones’ deep pass completion rate being a paltry 44 percent per the Pro Football Focus’ draft guide.
Because Jones doesn’t appear to trust what he sees deep down the field fully, he ends up holding onto the ball longer than necessary (and thus leaves himself open to taking more sacks and hits than he probably should).
While it’s easy to appreciate that Jones wants to make the right decision with the ball in his hands, he also cannot expect to have all day to sit in the pocket, especially at this level.
He also needs to develop a better feel for where his receivers are going to be deep down the field. On the tape, it looks as though Jones’ deeper passes are just thrown up on an arc with the hopes the ball will be landing in the hands of one of his receivers.
The other thing about Jones that will probably drive people mad is that he sometimes bird-dogs his receivers. He was able to get away with that in college, but he won’t be as fortunate in the NFL as pro defensive backs who understand the art of reading the quarterback’s eyes will use that to their advantage.
Grade: 5 - Good
Critical Factor No. 5: Competitive Toughness
A quarterback is going to have to improvise on occasion due to breakdowns in protection or adjustments made by the defense to take away a route or two. So where does Jones’ competitive toughness rank?
Well, he might have all the mannerisms of “Easy E” (Eli Manning) — the poise, the calmness, the “nothing bothers me” attitude — but underneath that demeanor is a competitor who will give everything he can to make plays even if the elements around him are less than ideal.
Take for instance his play at Duke. According to the Pro Football Focus 2019 Draft Guide, the Blue Devils had one of the lowest graded offensive lines last year, yet Jones still managed to overcome the pressures, the sacks, the hits, and the breakdowns up front (he was sacked 30 times included as well dropped passes (his receivers dropped 9.2 percent of his pass attempts, ranking Jones second in this category).
Although his numbers won’t rival those of former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, a valid argument could certainly be made that Jones had less talent to work with than Haskins did last season and that Jones was still able to put up decent numbers.
Quarterback play in the NFL is never going to perfect from snap to snap — there will be breakdowns, there will be mistakes, and every so often, if a guy is lucky, things might go according to plan on maybe 50 percent of any given play.
Before the draft, general manager Dave Gettleman spoke about a quarterback’s ability to handle adversity. While many thought he was referring to the demanding New York market — and he probably was — that likely wasn’t the only thing Gettleman was referencing.
He was probably referencing on-field adversity, which quite frankly if a quarterback can handle, the rest of the off-field stuff will take care of itself.
Grade: 6 - Very Good
The X-factor: Commitment
Commitment isn’t one of the critical (or position-specific) factors used in evaluating a quarterback, but it might as well be given how important it is.
We’ve heard it before: A successful quarterback needs to commit himself to eating, sleeping and breathing football.
That means extra time in the classroom watching film, in the weight room, and getting with the coaches and, in this case, Eli Manning to gather as much information as possible before hitting the practice field.
The more knowledge Jones can accumulate, the more confident he’ll be when in the huddle.
Jones, like Manning, had to do early in his career, is going to need to get the respect and attention of teammates representing different experience levels.
That means when he delivers the plays in the huddle, he must speak with an air of authority and in a commanding voice that leaves no doubt as to his understanding of what’s about to happen.
At the line of scrimmage, he’ll also need to show that he can correct any incorrect alignments of personnel and adjust to any imminent threats posed by the defense to thwart the play that’s called before it gets a chance to be run.
A former Giants quarterback once told me that if you want to succeed in the NFL, you pretty much have to become a football hermit when you’re young so you can build up not just the confidence your teammates have in you, but in what you have in yourself.
By all accounts, Jones seems willing to become a football hermit to improve his craft and to earn the confidence and respect of his teammates, not just on offense but also on defense.
As he gets his opportunities, especially with the first-team offense (and those will come at some point), he’ll need to find his voice as a leader and, more importantly, show that it’s ingrained in his quarterback DNA.
Just based on the critical factors alone, Jones certainly has the tools with which to work. In my estimation, however, he has a lot of work to do before he’s ready to step in and play a live regular-season game.
With that said, I think there’s reason to be encouraged based on the fact that Jones is a diligent student of the game and a guy who has a history of making something out of nothing.
His athleticism in particular is going to add a new dimension to the Giants offense that hasn’t been seen in years and which should make watching him play a lot of fun.