With the announcement on Tuesday that the New York Giants are making the switch to Daniel Jones at the quarterback position, it is time for the best part of following sports: The debates! As with any decision - in football or in life - there are usually some pros and some cons associated with the choices in front of you.
Starting Jones does not come without risk. On the cons side of that ledger you might find items such as “he might not be ready for this,” or “the offense around him might not have enough talent” or “he will be starting his first game on the road,” among others. But let’s not focus on the negatives. Let’s talk about the ways that Jones can impact this offense in a positive way.
One of the strengths to Jones’ game, dating back to his time at Duke University, is his athletic ability. For a young quarterback learning life in the NFL, the ability to create and/or extend with your legs can be a neutralizer of sorts. Should things break down around the QB - even as a result of a poor decision or slow read - he can use his legs to create. That is something we have seen from Jones so far, and again while in college:
In addition, in Week 1 we saw the Giants struggle on two designed play-action rollouts, with Eli Manning grounding one play and getting strip-sacked on the other. Jones’ athleticism makes designs like this a better proposition:
On this play against Georgia Tech from 2018, the Blue Devils roll Jones out to the left and he makes a quick read and throw to the flat.
We can also add to this the zone read element of the offense, pairing Jones in the backfield with Saquon Barkley. A critical component to those designs is the fear that an athletic quarterback puts in the mind of defensive ends. A DE worried about the QB’s legs might be slower to react to inside running plays/handoffs to the running back, and that might create some easier running lanes for Barkley.
Some might have checked this box from Jones before he hit the NFL. While at Duke he showed the ability to move around in the pocket well using his legs, but was also willing to hang in the pocket and make throws as the chaos swirled around him. Take, for example, this play against Georgia Tech from 2018:
Jones runs a run/pass option look, meeting his running back at the mesh point and pulling to throw. Before the play Georgia Tech showed a rotation to a soft Cover 3 look, so he wants to throw a backside bang 8 post route. But he has to carry out the mesh fake to his left before coming back to throw this pattern. His footwork is extremely fluid here, as he gets himself in good throwing position, and then caps it off with great placement. This is also a great throw in the intermediate area of the field, something we will discuss in a moment.
But in terms of pure toughness, nothing probably tops this sequence from his game against the Cincinnati Bengals during the preseason. Carl Lawson (58) puts a perfect pass rushing move on the left tackle on this play, and Jones gets drilled in the pocket on a hit he never saw coming:
Yet on the next play, he comes back and throws a dime to Darius Slayton (86) in the deep passing game, again from a crowded pocket with chaos swirling:
Pocket toughness: Box checked.
Similar to the pocket toughness issue, this is again not a knock on Manning but a look at what Jones can provide. Coming out of Duke Jones looked like more of a passer destined for a pure West Coast offense, but in his minimal action in the NFL he has flashed both velocity and placement in the intermediate passing game. One of his most memorable throws from the preseason came on such a throw, on a post route attacking the middle of the field:
The Bengals are in a single-high coverage scheme here with safety Shawn Williams (36) deep in the middle of the field. Golden is in the slot to the right as part of a three-receiver set, while Slayton is the lone receiver on the left. Slayton runs a double move, starting inside before breaking vertically, while Golden runs the post. Jones opens up to the left here and stares down Slayton using a subtle shoulder fake, which holds Williams towards that side of the field. With great protection, Jones is able to come late to Golden on the post route, and Williams - who has been held in the middle of the field thanks to the route design and Jones’ manipulation - is a step late and cannot impact the play.
Deep Passing Prowess
While the previous throw to Slayton is a good example of this, I come back to the touchdown from his debut in the NFL:
Jones puts this throw to Bennie Fowler (18) in an absolutely perfect spot. The corner route is perhaps the toughest deep route to throw - especially in the back corner of the end zone where there are essentially two extra defenders with the end line and the sideline - and Jones is perfect here.
Quick Game Processing
Let’s talk about processing speed. Studying Jones left me with the belief that his mental prowess is best on quick game concepts. These two plays against Virginia from 2018 were prime bits of evidence that I would return to over and over again when thinking about his best scheme fit. On this first play, the Blue Devils face a third and five in their own territory. They empty the backfield and put Jones in the shotgun, and run a Stick concept to a trips formation:
Jones wants to throw backside here, to the slot receiver on a curl route, because he expects the middle linebacker to open his hips to the three-receiver side of the formation. However, unexpectedly the MLB opens to the weak side of the offensive formation, jumping the backside curl route, due to a pressure package Virginia brings on the play. That forces Jones to change his read on the fly, and he comes to the curl route from the inside trips receiver.
Here is another example of Jones’ execution on a quicker route concept and showing great processing speed. On this third down against the Cavaliers, Duke runs a go/flat concept to the left side of the formation. Jones wants to throw the flat route to his slot receiver, but the cornerback traps this from the boundary, leaving the vertical route open along the sideline:
Again, this is great processing speed on a quick game concept. Jones picks up the trap on the slot receiver and immediately comes to the vertical route along the boundary.
This is something that has also translated to the NFL. This is an example of this in action:
What stands out on this play is how quickly Jones (#8) gets through to Shepard, who is his third read on the concept. As he takes the shotgun snap Jones first peeks at Latimer on his out route, but not liking what he sees he turns his field of vision to the drive concept. He checks Ellison and then finally comes to Shepard to throw the crosser, which he does with precision placement.
Watch this play again, and focus on Jones during his drop from the shotgun alignment. Before he hits his drop depth he has come off the out pattern and brought his eyes to the drive concept in the middle of the field. That is a very quick read and decision, but it is the right one from the young quarterback. From the end zone angle, you can see how he works the next two reads in the progression, looking first at Ellison before he comes underneath to Shepard:
This is very well done from Jones. He’ll need to make quick decisions like this as he adjusts to life as an NFL starter.
There will of course be bumps along the way, but in terms of a pure decision as to start Jones now or later, he has these five things going for him, which is nice.