FanPost

Is Daniel Jones Ryan Tannehill? Eli Manning? Neither?


As Mr Facts discusses in his post earlier tonight, the new Giants' GM is going to have to make a difficult decision right off the bat - whether to pick up Daniel Jones' 5th year option. It's a prediction of the future, and as the mutual fund prospectuses say, past performance may not be an indication of future results. That's meant to be a warning that future results may be worse. No one complains (or threatens to sue) when future results are better than past performance.

Those who feel we should cut the cord on Jones assume that past performance is indeed indicative of future results. Those who don't point to the absence of an adequate OL his entire 3 years, a good play caller at least the past 2 years, and either the absence of elite WRs or their absence on the field due to injuries.

Most QBs don't get appreciably better after their first few years. Bill Parcells might advise us, "You are what your record says you are." But there are a few interesting comparisons that can be made. Below I use Tucker Boyntons's (@Tucker_TnL) new shiny app "NFL Quarterback Cards" (https://tucker-boynton.shinyapps.io/nflplayercards/) to compare the long-term evolution of relevant stats for Jones and a few other QBs of note. Ed showed one of the nice features of this app this morning in a post on Jones, the ability to find the most similar QB to a given one using the various advanced stats that Boynton presents. The results were not compelling: Jones' 2021 season is closest statistically to seasons of Case Keenum, Carson Wentz, Sam Bradford, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, Rex Grossman, Jay Cutler, and Vince Young.

But let's soldier onward. First, let's compare Jones' first 3 years:

Jones has been slightly below average in expected points added (EPA) and completion % above expected (CPOE). He is well below average in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), which basically says it's an advantage for the defense when he's out there. Each of these was a little better in year 3 than the other years. He was awful in defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR) in years 1 and 2, but finally moved into positive territory in year 3. His PFF score declined from year 2 to year 3, but in both years it was above average, while his QB rating decreased dramatically in year 3. But his sack % went down significantly, while his completion % has increased slightly from year 1 to 2 to 3. Note also that the PFF receiver grades were significantly lower in year 3, only about average, while the PFF pass blocking grades have been terrible for two years now. Overall, some growth through 3 years, but Jones is clearly not yet a good NFL QB overall.

Now let's add a QB who "made the leap" in year 3, Josh Allen, looks like:

Allen's first two years look a lot like Jones'. But his 3rd year was spectacular, and while people say he's regressed this year, the stats say that the regression hasn't been severe. He's still an upper echelon QB. Allen has had the same OC (Brian Daboll) all 4 years, and his pass protection has been pretty constant (somewhat above average) the entire time as well. To his credit, in the off-season before his 3rd year he worked with a private coach to improve his passing, and while his completion % hasn't changed much, his % over expectation has gone up noticeably, which might mean he's throwing better into tight windows. But the big change in year 3? That would be the acquisition of Stefon Diggs. There was an almost 20 point increase in the PFF score of his receivers from year 2 to 3, and while there has been a decline this year, it's still well above average. That's the opposite of Jones, whose receivers performed worse this year than in his first 2 years.

Daniel Jones is often compared to his predecessor, Eli Manning. Many BBVers forget that Eli was almost given up on by fans after his first 3 years before winning it all in 2007. Boynton's app only goes back to 2006, but it's instructive to add the available years for Eli to compare to Jones:

Eli was not very good in 2006, and he was actually pretty bad in 2007. According to Pro Football Reference, he had 8 regular season games and 2 playoff games with less than 200 yards passing,including 49 against Miami and 94 against Buffalo. He answered the bell against Green Bay and then New England, but up to that point he was not a good QB in 2007. He didn't really hit his stride until 2008-2012, after which he began a slow decline. During his entire career, he almost always had above-average, and sometimes elite, receivers and pass blocking until almost the end, something that Daniel Jones has not yet experienced.

By the way, Eli's highest similarity to other QBs in the 2007 championship year? According to Boynton's app:

2013 Jason Campbell, 2008 Tyler Thigpen, 2012 Brandon Weeden, 2010 Matt Hasselbeck, 2013 Joe Flacco, 2008 Derek Anderson, 2016 Brock Osweiler, 2006 Brett Favre, and 2011 Matt Cassel. Ouch.

Compare that to 2012, when many BBVers felt the Giants were the best team in the NFL until a certain gun inadvertently went off. Eli's closes comparisons that seasons were to

2011 Michael Vick, 2014 Andrew Luck, 2011 and 2008 Matt Ryan, 2011 Philip Rivers, 2016 Jameis Winston, and 2008 Jake Delhomme. A little bit better. So QBs *can* evolve over their careers.

Finally, let's bring in Ryan Tannehill, one of the most fascinating case studies in QB evolution one can ask for. The problem with evaluating QBs is that there are too many variables: The QB himself, but also the OC, the pass blocking, and the WRs. It's almost impossible to isolate any one variable when they are all changing. But Tannehill's career comes as close as you can hope for. Let's add his career record:

Tannehill was mostly a poor QB in Miami during the first 6 years of his career under the tutelage of Adam Gase, who was considered a QB guru by Peyton Manning but who didn't show it with either Tannehill or Sam Darnold. Darnold got a 2nd chance with a new team and OC and still wound up performing mostly poorly (though Carolina's WRs and OL are nothing to write home about), so he is now perceived as a lost cause, rightly or wrongly. Tannehill had mostly good receivers in Miami (e.g. Jarvis Landry from 2014 on) and his OLs received mostly above-average PFF scores.

Then he was traded to Tennessee and their OC, Arthur Smith. Look at the dramatic improvement in almost every category. He also had very good WRs in A.J. Brown and Corey Davis (as well as RB Derrick Henry to occupy the minds of the opposing DLs), and the pass blocking was excellent in 2019, but it dropped off sharply in 2020 yet Tannehill performed as well as in 2019. We might speculate that Arthur Smith was the constant - a good OC who knew how to use his QB and put him in position to succeed.

We can thank Arthur Smith for taking the head coaching job in Atlanta this year, because this gives us almost a perfect way to isolate his impact from the others. Sure enough, Tannehill's performance this year without Smith has been noticeably worse than in 2019 and 2020 with Smith. That's not the only variable - Corey Davis left this year for the Jets, and Tannehill's two main receivers, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones, have both missed games with injuries. But the Titans' receiver grades are still well above average. This suggests that a good OC can indeed make a big difference.

Maybe the new GM will trade Daniel Jones for draft picks, and we'll see how he fares in a different situation. But assuming that he is still the Giants' starting QB in 2022, we'll definitely get to see the effect of a new, and hopefully, better OC. Hopefully we'll also have a significantly better OL., and receivers who aren't injured so much. Can Jones become an effective, and winning, QB under those circumstances? I have no idea. I'd like to find out.

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