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Making the case: Should the Giants draft a quarterback?

Believe it or not, the time is perfect to do so - but when?

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NCAA Football: Fresno State at UCLA
Jake Haener passing during Fresno State’s upset of UCLA
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants are not in the market for a new starting quarterback this year now that Daniel Jones has signed a four-year, $160 million contract. But should the Giants try to draft one anyway later this month?

In Round 1, no. Maybe just the opposite. General manager Joe Schoen might trade down from the Giants’ No. 25 draft position in the unlikely scenario that one of the four top quarterback prospects drops that far. Take for example the Los Angeles Rams. As always, the Rams have no first round pick this year, but they are sitting at No. 36 in Round 2. Currently they have only Matthew Stafford, 35 and coming off a spinal cord contusion and possible concussion, under contract. Might they want to trade up?

If that does not happen, though, things may get interesting beginning on Day 2 of the draft.

Taking a (somewhat) big swing on a quarterback of the future

Some people think that it would be a good idea for the Giants to use their second round pick on a player like Hendon Hooker. It’s improbable but not outrageous.

Hooker’s stock has fallen and then risen over the past few months, as draftniks drooled over his rocket arm while worrying about his age, his ACL tear, and the limitations of the Tennessee offense in which he operated. Consensus big boards presently have him ranked right about where the Giants will draft in the second round after having him as a fourth-round pick as recently as February:

Data from NFL Mock Draft Database

The Giants are said to be very interested in Hooker, have already met with him, and will host him as one of their 30 permitted prospect visits:

The Giants still have a number of major roster needs, only one of which they can possibly address in Round 1: A true No. 1 wide receiver, a cornerback, and a center. Most likely they try to address another one of these in Round 2 if the draft falls to them the way they’d like. But if Hooker drops to No. 57, there are several reasons for the Giants to select him:

  • If they subscribe to best player available philosophy, especially when that player is of high positional value, and they think that Hooker can be an elite NFL quarterback.
  • While they have committed to Jones, they can get out of his contract after two years with only $18M in dead money if doubters’ worst fears are realized and he flops:
Data from Over The Cap
  • Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor is in the final year of his contract, with a $6.9 million 2023 cap hit. He will be 35 next year. The Taylor signing made sense in 2022 because Schoen and Brian Daboll didn’t know what they had in Jones when they arrived, but having a backup quarterback getting a year of experience on an inexpensive rookie contract while Taylor is still a Giant would make even more sense.

Bringing in a potential starting-quality rookie quarterback after you’ve signed your in-house quarterback to a big contract can create a difficult dynamic in the locker room, as the Philadelphia Eagles experienced when they drafted Jalen Hurts in Round 2 with expensive starter Carson Wentz still there. But that sort of worked out for the Eagles in the long term.

Building depth at little cost but potentially high value

There’s a decent chance Hooker won’t be there by pick No. 57. If he is, the Giants may be more likely to entertain a trade-down with a team that has its eyes on him than to select him themselves. But that still leaves a large group of other developmental quarterback prospects that the Giants may consider, given that they have ten draft picks.

Just look at the two NFC Championship Game teams from last season:

  • The San Francisco 49ers drafted Brock Purdy with the final pick of the 2022 draft and struck gold. They already had Jimmy Garoppolo and 2021 No. 3 pick Trey Lance. Someone in the Niners front office was prescient, because despite Lance and now Sam Darnold being on the roster, Purdy seems to be the favorite to start.
  • Aside from Jalen Hurts, the Eagles under Howie Roseman have made a habit of drafting quarterbacks in later rounds: Mike Kafka (2010, Round 4), Nick Foles (2012, Round 3), Matt Barkley (2013, Round 4), and Clayton Thorson (2019, Round 5). Foles had two runs with the Eagles, during which he won a playoff game one year and a Super Bowl in another. Not to mention that when the Eagles moved on from him those two times they received in return Sam Bradford and second, third (compensatory), fourth, and fifth-round draft picks.
New York Jets v Philadelphia Eagles
Mike Kafka as an Eagle in 2010
Photo by Hunter Martin/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images

The Giants know a little something about having a good cheap backup quarterback. They drafted Jeff Hostetler in Round 3 in the 1984 draft. When Phil Simms went down with a season-ending injury late in the 1990 season, Hostetler was good enough to keep the ship afloat and allow the Giants’ dominating defense to lead them to their second Super Bowl title.

Picking the right quarterback in later rounds

If you are a good team and you stockpile draft picks, you have the luxury of drafting a quarterback every couple of years. The bust potential is high, but quarterbacks are of such high value that if you hit on one out of every three or four tries the meager investment is more than worth it.

The Giants are not yet the 49ers or the Eagles. They still have holes to fill. But Joe Schoen seems inclined to collect draft picks, and he has ten to work with this year. Why not use one of the Day 3 picks on a quarterback? Here are the Consensus Big Board rankings of quarterbacks after Hooker in the NFL Mock Draft Database:

Data from NFL Mock Draft Database

Let’s assume that through Day 2 value drops to the Giants so as to match up with their biggest needs. It’s possible that all of the quarterbacks above will still be on the board when the Giants are next up at pick No. 128 in Round 4. Which of these quarterbacks would I bang the table for if I were in the Giants’ war room on draft Day 3?

We’d like a quarterback to be tall and have a sturdy frame. We’d like him to be athletic enough to escape pressure and maybe even be an asset in the running game. We’d like him to have pocket presence to avoid sacks long enough to find open throwing windows. We’d like him to have great arm strength and to be an accurate passer at all three levels. We’d like him to be a fast mental processor, to easily go through read progressions and to recognize the defense being played and the holes in it. And we’d like him to have those intangible leadership qualities that make his teammates want to play for him. In addition, these days we’d like him to have scored high on the S2 Cognition Test.

On Day 3 of the draft you’re not going to find all that. In particular none of these players have very strong arms, especially when passing deep. Many of them are not tall. Some aren’t very accurate. Some are single-read passers. That’s why they’ll still be on the board on Day 3.

So which of the qualities above are most important? That depends on what you want the backup quarterback for. This year the Giants are not looking for competition for Jones but rather someone who by 2024 will be capable of stepping in and giving the Giants the chance to win games for a limited period of time if Jones goes down with an injury.

That’s what Purdy did for the 49ers last season and what Foles did for the Eagles in 2017. Think of other successful backup quarterback examples: Taylor Heinecke, Gardner Minshew, Cooper Rush, Chad Henne, Mike White, Bailey Zappe. What they all do is to keep the chains moving. Short-to-intermediate accuracy, quick reads, not putting the ball up for grabs, and scrambling ability are the key assets.

Narrowing the list

Given that the Giants’ offensive line is still a work in progress, an effective backup must have good mobility. That unfortunately eliminates Tanner McKee (6-foot-6 height) and Aidan O’Connell (6-3), the two tallest prospects but both traditional pocket passers who fare poorly when under pressure. Neither one has an exceptionally strong arm either, and O’Connell in particular is interception-prone. The Giants don’t need another Mike Glennon.

Tyson Bagent is a nice story, a successful and confident quarterback from a Division II school who is 6-3 and has good mobility but who has mechanical issues that need to be corrected to have any chance at the NFL level. As an undrafted free agent, fine. Maybe even as a seventh-round pick. But not earlier.

At the other end of the spectrum is Stetson Bennett, a national champion leading the closest thing to an NFL team that exists at the college level. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, though, he is undersized for the NFL. He’s not a very accurate passer and has no other traits that stand out, though he certainly got the job done.

Malik Cunningham (6-1) is by far the most dynamic running threat of all the Day 3 quarterback prospects. But as a passer...he’s a good runner. 8 TDs and 5 interceptions in 2022 and only a 62.4% completion percentage. His arm talent is subpar. He might develop, he might not. Take a flier with one the Giants’ three Round 7 picks? Sure. But not higher than that.

The finalists

That leaves Jaren Hall, Jake Haener, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Clayton Tune, and Max Duggan. Any of these five would be fine with me.

Thompson-Robinson is the most experienced with five seasons under his belt and modest progression in his game over that time. He has decent height (6-2) and is mobile in the pocket but not especially accurate throwing downfield.

Tune is another five-year player with decent height for the position (6-2½) who has increased his accuracy dramatically the past two seasons in a pass-heavy quick-read offense. Like the others, he doesn’t have great arm strength and he is bothered by pressure. He increased his TD passes from 15 to 30 to 40 his last three years while maintaining his interception number at 10.

Jaren Hall is only 6-0. He operates mostly from the pocket and has good accuracy to all levels but does not have the exceptional arm strength to make big downfield throws. He is another quarterback who increased his TD output over the past two years (20 to 31) while keeping his interceptions low (5 to 6). Hall is comfortable moving around the pocket and evading pressure, and unlike some of the other quarterbacks discussed here he was part of his team’s running game. He does have a significant injury history, though.

Max Duggan (6-1½) is another quarterback with scrambling and designed play running skills. He impressively led TCU to the National Championship Game. Duggan stands in the pocket and is less bothered by pressure than many other quarterbacks. Like the others he doesn’t display great arm talent on deep throws, but he has decent arm strength otherwise. He also has good accuracy. Duggan is an intriguing prospect, though he is still developing. Read Chris Pflum’s detailed breakdown of him.

Jake Haener (6-0) is perhaps the most pro-ready of this group of quarterbacks. He broke the career records of the Carr brothers at Fresno State. He is an accurate short-to-intermediate passer (only 3 interceptions in 2022), has good pocket presence, looks off defenders and goes through progressions well, but like the others does not have the arm talent to throw deep effectively. He is a great competitor, most notably playing through a hip injury to lead Fresno State to a come-from-behind victory over UCLA (and Dorian Thompson-Robinson) in 2021 and winning a bowl game against Washington State after missing three games with an ankle injury earlier this past season.

Banging the table

The question for the Giants is whether they want to invest a pick as high as No. 128 in Round 4 on a quarterback. That depends on what else Joe Schoen does during free agency and what other players are on the board when the Giants pick. Last year Schoen traded down twice during the draft, including acquiring the extra Round 4 pick that was used to draft Dane Belton.

If something similar happens this year and the Giants find themselves with two Round 4 picks again, using one of them for a quarterback is absolutely in play. In that case, Jake Haener is the guy I would “bang the table” for. He is an NFL-caliber quarterback with great leadership qualities and a nose for clutch performances against big opponents. His game is fairly complete and lacks only the cannon arm required for him to be a long-term NFL starter. He’s not as mobile as Duggan or Hall but he’s sufficient in the pocket. His injury history will need to be examined to rule out any longer-term issues, though.

If the Giants only have the single Round 4 pick they have now, though, I might take a pass at No. 128 and wait until Round 5 for a quarterback. Haener has been dropping on big boards the past month:

Data from NFL Mock Draft Database

I might be able to get Haener at No. 160, and if so I’d jump at that. If not, I’d be willing to take Duggan or Hall. Both of them need further development, but both have futures in the NFL, and both would be comfortable in the type of offense Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka ran last season with Daniel Jones. Either way, it’s been four years since the Giants drafted a quarterback. The time to do it is now.