The season-ending ACL tear suffered by Daniel Jones last Sunday in Las Vegas did not ruin the New York Giants’ 2023 season. That had already happened, whether you think it was the embarrassing Monday night loss to a beatable Seattle team, the loss in Buffalo that could/should have been a victory were it not for an awful decision at the end of the first half, or the unfathomable defeat by the Jets when the Giants had the lead and the ball in field goal range with less than half a minute remaining that did it. Even if all those games had gone the Giants’ way, the fact is that they were blown out, either right away or in the fourth quarter, by Dallas, San Francisco, and Miami. That was the clue that something was really amiss.
The 2023 season was supposed to be Jones’ step up the the next level of NFL quarterbacks after his best season ever. That never materialized because of the ACL tear, because of an earlier neck injury that cost him three games, and perhaps most of all because when he did play, he was generally underwhelming except for one half in Arizona. This has created a complex set of decisions for Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll going into 2024.
Should the Giants draft a quarterback in 2024?
Regardless of your opinion of Jones the player, the answer to this question almost certainly has to be yes. Perhaps Jones’ ACL experience will be like that of Joe Burrow, who tore his ACL in 2020 Week 10 while being sacked behind a poor offensive line and was ready to go in 2021 Week 1, leading the Bengals to the Super Bowl. On the other hand, Aaron Robinson tore his ACL and MCL in Week 3 last season, and he is nowhere to be seen, presumably still a ways from getting back on the field. By April the Giants will not know for sure what Jones’ status is, and even Jones’ staunchest supporters have to admit that his injury history demands that at the least there be another viable option on the roster. It seems unfair to Jones - he never got a functional OL to work behind - but that’s the way it is.
Combine that with the fact that 2024 looks to be chock-full of NFL-caliber quarterback prospects, and it would be malpractice by Joe Schoen not to grab one of them.
Will the Giants be in position to draft a good quarterback prospect?
Here’s where things get very interesting. If I told you at the start of September that the Giants were going to have the No. 1 or 2 pick in the 2024 draft, you would have laughed. Currently they are No. 3 in draft position, behind Carolina (whose pick belongs to Chicago) and Arizona. However, Austin Mock of The Athletic has a model that he runs 100,000 times to project the score of every game and likely final season win total after each week’s games. As of Thursday morning the model had the Giants at 3.7 projected wins, just ahead of Carolina (3.8), Arizona (4.3), and Chicago (4.9), i.e., it gave the Giants the best chance for the top pick in the draft (though Carolina’s loss to Chicago may change that).
At 2-7, the Giants are a game “behind” (in draft position) 1-win Arizona and Carolina and tied with 2-win New England. The Cardinals have Kyler Murray returning from his own ACL injury. He could be anything from a hobbled version of his former elusive, creative self, to the headache that seemed to waste his talents and drove a head coach out of town, to the earlier quarterback who amazed with his creativity and led the Cardinals to the playoffs one year. If he plays anywhere near his ceiling, Arizona will win a few games. Carolina has Bryce Young, who has struggled so far, but if he figures things out the Panthers might win a couple before the season is over. Chicago is a hot-and-cold team that seems certain to win a couple more games. New England? I can’t figure them out, they shouldn’t be this bad.
Most importantly, several of these teams play each other. Arizona and Chicago play in December. New England doesn’t play either of them, but they do play the Giants in a couple of weeks, and they finish the season against the Jets, a team they always beat. Overall, the Giants have the sixth-toughest schedule in the league for the remainder of the season:
Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to envision the Giants losing the rest of their games than not. There’s always the “risk” that Tyrod Taylor returns and leads them to a few victories, but at the moment, what seemed impossible at the start of the season seems more possible now.
But which quarterback?
On the platform formerly known as Twitter, there is incessant debate about whether Caleb Williams or Drake Maye is the better pro prospect. It seems like a question of whether you prefer the more creative, lower floor - higher ceiling Williams, who reminds some people of Patrick Mahomes, or the more traditional, play-within-structure Maye, who is much bigger (6-foot-4, 226 pounds) than Williams (6-1, 216) and more in the mold of Carson Palmer according to several analysts. I’ll be interested to read Chris Pflum’s breakdowns of both prospects. Both are considered can’t-miss.
That’s the thing, though - there is no such thing as a can’t-miss prospect. Look at all the quarterbacks taken in the first four rounds of the past eight drafts:
In six of the past eight years the No. 1 pick was a quarterback, and in one other year the first QB was No. 2. Three times a quarterback was taken both at No. 1 and No. 2. Has the first QB chosen been the best QB of that draft? I would argue that the only one who clearly answers that question yes has been Trevor Lawrence in 2021; the other four QBs from that draft have in one way or another been disasters.
Jared Goff has probably turned out to be the best QB of the 2016 draft, but it’s taken five years or so to reach that conclusion. Mitch Trubisky, whom Chicago infamously traded up to select over Patrick Mahomes, has been the worst of the top three in the 2017 class. The supposedly great 2018 class wound up only having two great QBs, the third and the fifth ones chosen, the latter at the very end of the first round. Kyler Murray has been the best from 2019 despite his recent problems given Daniel Jones’ disastrous 2023, but he is no one’s idea of what a No. 1 pick should be. Joe Burrow has lived up to being the No. 1 pick but arguments can be made for several of the others, e.g., do the Chargers regret having to wait for the No. 6 pick to select Justin Herbert? The 2023 draft has become a dramatic case in point - Bryce Young, taken No. 1, has disappointed so far, while C.J. Stroud has been very impressive, which Ohio State QBs are not supposed to be once they reach the NFL. (Draft the player, not the helmet, as they say.) Stroud is the only No. 2 QB pick in the past eight years who seems to be the real deal.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, though, 99% of the conversation in NFL circles is about teams jockeying for, or trying to trade up to, get to No. 1 or No. 2. Carolina did that last year and the early returns are not good. Giants fans would probably be content for their team to land at either No. 1 or No. 2, whether due to their own inept play or via a trade-up.
Is that the wisest course of action?
A radical proposal
If the Giants wind up having the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, it would be difficult for them to pass on one of those two top quarterback prospects. History, as shown above, says that’s less of a slam dunk decision than you might imagine, but I won’t propose that the Giants give up that pick if that’s where they land. That would be too cute.
Going into the Carolina-Chicago game, though, they were at No. 4. It’s pretty unlikely that three QBs will go in the first three picks with wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. sitting there, although it depends on which team drafts No. 3. It’s pretty likely that the top two quarterbacks will go, though. Let’s instead entertain a trade-down. The Giants currently have four picks in Rounds 1-3. It’s a shame they have to use a high pick on a quarterback, but that’s where things are. Jones could become the player next year that the Giants envisioned when they signed him to a four-year deal, but they can’t risk it. A trade-down would provide additional chances to find blue-chip players at other positions of need while still getting a promising QB into the fold.
I tried this with the Pro Football Focus mock draft simulator just to illustrate. Most of the time the simulator takes Williams and Maye off the board in some order in the first two picks, and Harrison with the third pick. If any of those players just dropped to the Giants I wouldn’t pass them up. That would be Micah Parsons, Part Deux (despite the fairly sordid history of No. 1 and 2 QBs shown above). Assuming that all three are gone, though, I have a choice:
- Any other QB
- Trade down if I can, acquire multiple high picks and get a QB later
For the actual Giants draft, it obviously depends on what GM Joe Schoen and his staff think of the rest of the QB class. There is no other QB that clearly stands out from the others. Let’s assume that there are several other QBs they like. I was able to trade down with Arizona for their No. 15 pick and received the following, which PFF rated as a fairly equitable trade (41% chance the Cardinals would accept it, which they did):
For comparison to the “real” world, in 2021 Miami traded No. 3 to San Francisco for No. 12, first-round picks in 2022 and 2023, and a third-round 2022 pick. (All that just to get Trey Lance - buyer beware.). You can always get more in future picks than current picks, but I chose this deal to illustrate how it might be possible to strengthen the roster immediately.
The only quarterback I lost out on by trading down was Bo Nix. I did the following with my now four Round 1 and 2 picks:
The particular players don’t matter. I’m not an expert on the current field of prospects. There might have been better choices. The points are the following:
- If you think the Giants are just a great quarterback away from the Super Bowl, then I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you. This season shows us that. There are still holes at many positions as well as lack of depth. It wasn’t the QB that gave up 30 points to Las Vegas. The Giants’ top two quarterbacks didn’t decide to get themselves injured.
- How are the Giants going to fill those holes? They do have some cap space to work with in 2024 ($28.3M at the moment after their draft class is signed, per Over The Cap). That’s enough to sign one, maybe two, mid-range/high-end free agents. Most of their improvement will need to come from the draft.
- Because salaries of draftees are so strongly weighted toward the top end, the four picks I get in exchange for No. 4 collectively cost about the same ($7.7M) as No. 4 by itself does ($7.3M).
In the example above, I chose not to use No. 15 on a QB, anticipating that good ones would still be there in Round 2. Instead, I got a great edge defender prospect, a position sorely in need of being upgraded since Azeez Ojulari has been injured so much. At No. 33 I grabbed my QB instead (I could have had Michael Penix Jr., but speaking of extensive injury histories...). Maybe that’s too risky. Taking a quarterbackat No. 15 would be fine too, IF one of the others is good enough to justify that high a pick. I was able to get a badly-needed wide receiver with the Giants’ own Round 2 pick and an offensive tackle with the Round 2 pick they got in the Leonard Williams trade. And I haven’t even used the two Round 3 picks I got from Arizona. That gives me another round to fill in at positions like guard, safety, tight end, etc..
I know trade-downs are a sore subject with Giants fans after the 2021 Kadarius Toney fiasco. They can be a great idea, though, if there is not an obviously great option where you are drafting and if you have planned in advance for the possibility that the player you want might be taken before your pick comes up. Those things seemed not to have been done by Jerry Reese in 2017 and Dave Gettleman in 2021. Fans would have liked to see them trade up instead, if not trade down to get more assets.
For the record, PFF told me that I’d have to give up the Giants’ firs-round pick plus both second-round picks to have a good chance to move up to No. 1. I could imagine Chicago making that trade if they wind up with both Carolina’s and their own pick in the top two. To move up to No. 2, PFF wants me to give up No. 4 plus the No. 57 pick acquired for Leonard Williams plus No. 104 and No. 141. That would leave the Giants with one of the two marquee quarterback prospects, but only second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks to improve the rest of the team.
There’s a way to fix that, potentially. Consider another Giants trade-down, this one by Joe Schoen: 2022, Round 2, Schoen sent No. 36 to the Jets for No. 38 and No. 146. The Jets used No. 36 for Breece Hall, a really good back, but the Giants were not about to draft a running back at that point. Instead Schoen did another trade-down from No. 38 to No. 43. With No. 38 he took Wan’Dale Robinson, who actually has been their best wide receiver so far this year. Fans were upset they didn’t take George Pickens, a very impressive receiver. Last time we saw Pickens, though, he was sitting on the bench frowning after Kenny Pickett chose to throw the winning TD pass to teammate Diontae Johnson instead of him. Maybe there was a reason Schoen passed on the talented Pickens. Oh, and the extra pick Schoen got in that trade-down? That would be Micah McFadden, whom PFF has graded above 87 in three of the past four games. The other trade-down netted Dane Belton, who has potential but has not broken through yet to get significant playing time ahead of Jason Pinnock (a Jets fifth-round pick).
It’s going to be aw-w-k-ward
2024 Giants training camp promises to be very interesting. Jones will surely intend to keep his starting job regardless of whether the Giants draft a potential replacement. If the Giants use a high pick on a potential replacement, the dynamic between the two could be interesting to watch. Would it be a good or a bad thing for the team as a whole? It’s hard to say. Jones seems to be very popular with his teammates, which is not surprising given his hard work, self-effacing manner and willingness to take all the blame on himself when things go wrong (the Marcus Johnson “Catch the damn ball!” incident in Jacksonville notwithstanding). Drafting a quarterback high could divide the team. It may at least result in some uncomfortable moments.
It may be that Jones wins the job outright and goes on to lead the Giants to a great 2024 season while the draft pick sits. That would be OK, actually more than OK. Playing so well that the draftee never sees the field is a good outcome. Or maybe Jones shows the same flaws that he has exhibited in previous years, or gets hurt again, and is replaced during the season or the following year by the draftee. Here are two recent examples:
- 2017: Kansas City trades up to No. 10 to select Patrick Mahomes but sits him for a year while incumbent Alex Smith leads them to the playoffs. Mahomes started the following season.
- 2020: Philadelphia selects Jalen Hurts in Round 2 despite having Carson Wentz, who had signed a 4-year, $128M contract extension in 2019. Hurts replaced Wentz as starter before the end of the 2020 season. Philly GM Howie Roseman had to eat $33.8M in dead money when he traded Wentz to the Colts. That dwarfs the $22M Joe Schoen will have to absorb if Jones is not a Giant in 2025.
Both situations must have been awkward. Both seem to have worked out well for the teams, to say the least. Smith and Wentz went on to extend their careers elsewhere, though neither excelled.
In other cases, the highly-drafted QB either never became the starter or did but failed. Looking at the past eight drafts above, we see Paxton Lynch (No. 26), Christian Hackenberg (No. 51), DeShone Kizer (No. 52), Josh Rosen (No. 10), and Drew Lock (No. 42) as examples. The draft is a crapshoot, as they say, and that is nowhere more true than at the quarterback position. If you’re sure about Caleb Williams, or Drake Maye, or any of the other quarterback prospects, guess again. You have to try, though. If you can do it by trading down and giving yourself more chances to upgrade the rest of the roster, all the better.