So, what’s real with Daniel Jones?
Is he really Danny Dimes? The guy who has been the best rookie quarterback in the 2019 draft class this preseason, going 25-of-30 (83.3 percent completions) for 369 with three touchdowns and no interceptions?
Is he really the guy who has made pre-draft doubters like Mark Schofield begin to doubt their evaluations? Or, at least make them begin to think it’s possible there is more to Jones than they thought?
Has he really been good enough for Giants coach Pat Shurmur to be justified in saying “You can ask me all you want about why I like him [Daniel Jones]. I think it’s time to start asking the people that didn’t like him what they think,” after Jones’ 9-of-11 Week 3 performance against the Cincinnati Bengals?
Or, is Jones just a rookie on a hot streak? A kid having a good preseason against second- and third-team defenses playing vanilla schemes and doing little to nothing that could confuse him?
Is he really what his numbers at Duke, most notably a 59.9 percent career completion rate, say he is? That would be an athletic, competitive player but an inaccurate passer without a great arm? A guy Schofield predicted “could develop into a mid-tier starter” and Dane Brugler of The Athletic predicted in his draft guide would be a “B-level NFL starter?” A guy Pro Football Focus called “a third-round prospect who is likely to be overdrafted?”
Yep, let’s get back to the question I asked at the beginning of this post.
The answer, to some degree, is probably all of it. Let’s look at three things as we try to answer that question while awaiting Jones’ start Thursday vs. the New England Patriots.
The Giants are a conservative organization that really doesn’t like major change. They are used to a certain type of personality at quarterback, as the centerpiece of their organization.
Eli Manning has been that guy for 16 years. We know what his personality is. He doesn’t make headlines off the field. He isn’t a “brand.” He doesn’t say more than he has to say when he talks to the media. He always falls on his sword, protecting teammates and taking the blame even when it doesn’t belong to him.
On the field, there’s no flash. He just does his job to the best of his ability. No emotional outbursts or over the top celebrations. No finger-pointing or embarrassing receivers who make mistakes.
Before Manning, Phil Simms was much the same way. It was a different time media-wise, but Simms was never the center of attention — on or off the field.
One thing we knew about Jones was that he fit that profile.
The rookie has both looked and sounded like Manning since Day 1. Deferential to Manning. Not brash or loud about his successes thus far. Giving credit to teammates. Protecting them when necessary. He did that when Darius Slayton dropped a pass the first day of rookie mini-camp, crediting Slayton for getting open and saying he needed to give him an easier ball to catch.
Dave Gettleman wanted a quarterback who had been through and had proven he could handle adversity. Jones, having been lightly recruited and having always had to play uphill at Duke vs. more talented opponents, had done that.
In limited doses, he’s done that with the Giants. Jones handled the booing at Yankee Stadium and the criticism of the Giants’ decision to take him No. 6 overall. He handled the Baker Mayfield situation nicely, and bounced back well vs. the Chicago Bears after a pair of fumbles.
“One of the first questions I asked him when I met him was: do you have thick skin,” Giants’ co-owner John Mara said. “Then after we drafted him, I asked him: do you understand why I asked you that question. He smiled, he can handle it, he can handle being the quarterback of the New York Giants.”
Personality, demeanor and toughness-wise, Jones is as advertised. Those things are real.
A better than expected preseason
Coach Pat Shurmur has said over and over that what we have seen from Jones in the preseason is what the Giants expected. It’s why the Giants invested the sixth overall pick on him. Realistically, though, Jones’ on-field play has been better than just about anyone who scouted him pre-draft could have anticipated.
The 25-of-30 is nice. The quality of some of his throws has been nicer. Well-thrown deep balls with better accuracy and power than some thought he possessed. Deep outs thrown on-target and with excellent zip. Underneath throws placed with precision that have allowed receivers to run after the catch. A previously unseen ability to go through progressions and find a second or third target.
As Schofield showed us in an excellent breakdown of Jones’ preseason, Jones has shown abilities in three preseason games that were not clear to see on his Duke tape.
As Schofield said, “If Jones continues with this level of play — and more importantly this developmental arc — there will be many lining up for their own feast of crow.”
We still don’t really know what he will be
That’s also real. Perhaps, it is also the most important thing. Three preseason games doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t make a career.
Jones is off to a good start. He’s done everything right off the field and been better than many expected on the field. Yet, it’s all been against second- and third-team defenses playing mostly vanilla schemes. In games that mean nothing and will be long forgotten when his career is over.
Those who want to reserve judgment on Jones until they see how he develops in games that actually matter, are also absolutely right. That’s real.
This is part of what Dane Brugler, draft analyst for The Athletic, told me:
“Okay to be encouraged by preseason play, but changing evaluations based on a few preseason exhibition games doesn’t make much sense to me ... There is no reason to make a rush to judgment. I’m eager to see him play in the regular season.”