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Position preview: Will Giants’ QB Daniel Jones take the leap, or won’t he?

Giants have a lot riding on the answer to that question

NFL: New England Patriots at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterback position for the New York Giants is all about Daniel Jones. Everyone knows that. Will he take a step forward in Year 3 and play winning football? Or will he continue to make costly mistakes, mostly involving turning the ball over (22 interceptions, 29 fumbles — 23 of which were lost) in just 27 career games (26 starts)?

We will talk plenty about Jones here. Still, our position preview format has been to assess where the Giants started at a position when training camp began, and where they are as preseason ends and the regular season begins.

So, let’s do that.

Where they started

Training camp roster: Daniel Jones, Mike Glennon, Clayton Thorson

Jones played only once during the preseason, and his performance against the New England Patriots largely mirrored his first two seasons. There was a lot of good — he went 17 of 22 for 135 yards and a brilliant 23-yard touchdown throw to Kaden Smith. There was also a dumbfounding interception on a cross body throw well behind Evan Engram from inside the New England 1-yard line that likely cost the Giants at least three points and perhaps seven in a game they ultimately lost, 22-20.

Let’s, though, put Jones aside for a minute.

The Giants chose to sign journeyman Mike Glennon as their No. 2 quarterback this offseason rather than sticking with journeyman Colt McCoy. Ostensibly, the primary reason for that choice is that Glennon has the stronger arm and the Giants want to be more vertical in their passing attack.

Glennon completed 22 of 37 passes (59.5 percent) for 253 yards, two touchdowns and a 98.1 passer rating. He may not always be the most efficient, and he has a frustrating habit of missing short throws that should be easy, drive-sustaining completions. Still, his off-balance 43-yard heave to Damion Willis at the end of the game vs. New England showcased the arm strength the Giants craved.

Clayton Thorson lost the opportunity to be the Giants’ practice squad quarterback, which he was much of last season, when he suffered a concussion at the end of the first preseason game vs. the New York Jets. Thorson was eventually waived/injured and Brian Lewerke took his spot.

Where they are now

53-man roster: Jones, Glennon
Practice squad: Lewerke

Now, let’s focus on Jones.

Year 3.

In the modern era of football, talent evaluators say that you generally know what a player is — and is gong to be — after three seasons in the NFL.

For highly-drafted young quarterbacks like Jones, the third season is a particularly important milestone. Perhaps more for the franchise the quarterback plays for than even for the player himself.

That, of course, is because of how much quarterbacks cost and what is triggered after Year 3 for a quarterback selected in Round 1 of the NFL Draft. Before Year 4 begins, teams have to decided whether or not to pick up a player’s fifth-year option. In the case of a quarterback, that generally signals whether or not a team considers that young quarterback its guy for the next several seasons, and whether or not a rich, long-term contract is in the offing. In some cases, that rich contract extension might even come before Year 4 begins.

In 2020, Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills became the Gold Standard for quarterbacks making Year 3 leaps. His third season, in which the Bills won their first AFC East title since 1995, was off the chain compared to his first two seasons.

Jones making an Allen-esque leap has been talked about ad nauseum, including here at Big Blue View. Allen’s year over year improvement has been spectacular, and is probably more exception than rule. It is perhaps unfair to EXPECT Jones to make that kind of drastic jump in performance.

Improvement, though, is necessary.

Jones has turned the football over far too often. He threw only 11 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions last season. The Giants finished 31st in offense in 2020. Jones has a record of 8-18 as a starter.

In fairness, none of those things are entirely his fault. They all, though, end up on a quarterback’s ledger.

The Giants consistently say they have seen improvement from Jones.

“I’ve seen improvement in his game across the board, pre-snap and post-snap, just understanding and processing,” head coach Joe Judge said. “I think it’s something that naturally happens for players, number one, as they go through their career and obviously a few years into his career, and now he’s going to gain more experience every year. And then being in the same system for multiple years to be able to process the decisions and the adjustments as they happen at full speed.”

The Giants went all in to give Jones the best playmakers they could get their hands on after a miserable performance by the 2020 offense. Wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney, along with tight end Kyle Rudolph has been added. Saquon Barkley is returning from his knee injury, and could be available Sunday vs. the Denver Broncos. Provided the Giants are healthy enough, weaponry should not be an issue.

The issues are two-fold:

  • Will the young and largely unproven offensive line give Jones a chance to succeed?
  • When he does have a chance, will Jones prove capable of maximizing the play makers that have been placed around him?

Nothing we saw in training camp or the preseason gave us that answer.

Mark Schofield was pretty indifferent to what he saw in Jones’ preseason outing vs. New England. There were good and not-so-good days in practice, but all of that has to be taken with a grain of salt. Quarterbacks are in red jerseys and can’t be touched, and both defensive backs and receivers aren’t always going to give the A+ effort on a 50-50 ball. So, you aren’t always getting a realistic picture.

I don’t know what is going to happen this season. No one does. Jones, though, might hold the key to the direction of the franchise for the next five or six years.

A few months from now, we will know which way that key turns.