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Daniel Jones progress report: Head-scratchers, for sure, but also moments of hope

Sixteen games in there is growth, but you have to look for it

NFL: New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Among the many questions I was asked this summer on podcasts or radio show appearances, aside from the obvious “are we going to have an NFL season?”, was something along these lines:

“What do you want to see from Daniel Jones in year two?”

Oftentimes people were looking for projected statistics, or numbers of interceptions, but I wanted something less tangible.

Growth.

I wanted to see a quarterback who is not making mistakes he was making as a rookie. I wanted to see a quarterback who getting ahead of the mental curve. The proverbial “the game is slowing down for him” moment.

With his start last week, Jones has now notched 16 games in the NFL. This is a good time to take stock.

Normally, I would write a ton of words and throw some videos at you, but we are doing things a bit differently this week. Here are some video breakdowns to look at, comparing moments from 2019 - his rookie season - to some of his plays from this year.

Let’s start with this topic: Staring down receivers.

This is in essence the same concept, against zone coverage both times, and Jones gets into trouble with each throw. Yes, on the 2020 play the ball is tipped, but I’m concerned with the mind. The thought process of 2020 mirrors what we saw from 2019.

Remember one of the concerns regarding Jones coming out of Duke University. I have recited this statistic over and over and over again, but it bears repeating from what I wrote back in April of 2020:

Jones was primarily asked to execute 0/1-step drops, RPOs, screens, and rollouts, concepts that generally indicate simpler, or even singular, reads. He did so on a whopping 72.6 percent of his dropbacks, the eighth-highest rate among 164 quarterbacks who dropped back 100+ times in 2018. To give you an idea of how that might translate to the NFL, Nick Foles had the highest rate of 43 NFL quarterbacks at 58.3 percent. Only two other quarterbacks did so at a rate above 50 percent, and the average rate among quarterbacks who dropped back at least 100 times was 33.8 percent.

Jones might still be that one-read quarterback he was at Duke. If that first read is there and he trusts what he is seeing, he can beat you. But if the first read is covered, he is often too slow to come off that option, if at all.

Anticipation is another way to measure if the game is slowing down for a quarterback. These next two videos examine that trait, first with a comparison to 2019:

Jones flashed the ability to make anticipation throws as a rookie, but without consistency. That has continued into 2020. He can do it, but not as often as you would like. These two throws against the Los Angeles Rams, he makes life tougher on himself because he is not trusting his eyes, he is not trusting what is in front of him, and he hesitates.

But it is not time to give up on him, not by a long shot. Because even when he has these moments, he can turn around and give you these moments, too:

These honestly might be the two best throws Jones as made as a professional.

On both of these plays Jones trusts what he is seeing and lets it rip. On the first example he shows you not just anticipation, but the ability to throw a receiver open in the middle of the field, one of the toughest tests a quarterback faces from the pocket.

However ... on both of these he is staring right at his first read.

Even when there is growth, questions remain.

But that’s just it. There is growth, even in an 0-4 season that seems to have shattered the will of most New York Giants fans, at least judging by my Twitter DMs. Quarterback development is never a linear process. On so many of those shows I referred to at the outset of this piece, I concluded by saying that more than anything else, I want to believe that at the end of the 2020 season, Jones is a better quarterback than he was when the season began. Right now, despite the downs, I think he is on that path.

But it is not easy, it takes work.

And it could still fail.

In response to one of those videos, I got a smart series of questions from someone who watched them, which I will link now:

Those are, perhaps, the critical questions facing Jones and the Giants now in what is looking like an autumn to forget. Are they going to ruin him? As Tony points out, this would not be the first time a young, promising quarterback is ruined by - in part - the failures around. Failures of roster construction. Failures of organizational consistency. Failures due to injuries, or schedules, or other hardships that you cannot see coming but smack you in the face on the games begin. Like losing a Saquon Barkley. Or a global pandemic. Or yet another offensive system.

Or all of those at once.

The fear with Jones is that quarterbacks sometimes are who they are. In Jones’s case, that means a scheme-dependent, one-read reliant quarterback who needs help from the system and the personnel around him to be at his best. If you can get that first read open for him on a consistent basis, you are going to have success. If not, you are going to see failure.

That brings us to topics we have mentioned over and over and over again. Motion. Play-action. Using different personnel packages, such as 12 and even 13, to throw against base defenses. All the things you can do to both give your quarterback information, and try to ensure that the receiver he looks at first, is going to be someone he can trust is open. Then you build in the additional options off of that. A check down. A second or third read. Once the quarterback has the confidence that he can truly work through those designs you will see the exponential growth Giants fans were hoping to see when the season began.

Because while also inconsistent, those moments are too happening from Jones:

This is a play-action boot concept out of 13 personnel on a fourth-and-1. His progression read is as follows: Flat to corner to sit. After coming out of the fake Jones first looks to the receiver in the flat. Seeing that covered, he checks the deeper corner route. That is covered. So he comes to the sit route over the middle for Kaden Smith, and hits that to move the chains.

Growth.

It is never a linear process, but we are seeing signs that its occurring. The hurdle the organization faces now is to continue that path even in this difficult autumn.