Through eight games of the 2022 season, the New York Giants’ leader in receptions was Saquon Barkley with 28. Darius Slayton led the team with 232 receiving yards. Daniel Jones ranked 23rd out of 35 quarterbacks with a 64.6 Pro Football Focus grade.
Fast forward to Week 1 of the 2023 season, and things look quite different for the Giants’ offense. Jones finished the season as PFF’s 15th-graded quarterback (76.0) and earned a lucrative contract extension. Slayton put up 397 yards in his final seven games of the season, establishing himself as an offensive weapon. The Giants added Darren Waller, Parris Campbell, and Jalin Hyatt to fortify their pass-catching group.
While Waller is the No. 1 target and there is no true alpha in the receiving room (yet), this is likely the deepest pass-catching corps that Jones has had since the Giants drafted him in 2019. All six receivers have the potential to be a starter on another team, even if none is a true No. 1. In Waller, Jones has a true matchup nightmare, a player he can rely on for hot routes, beating man coverage, and in “have-to-have” moments. Daniel Bellinger and Lawrence Cager have intriguing receiving skills of their own, and Barkley is a continued target out of the backfield.
This cadre of weapons has added to the expectations for Jones. He unleashed a plethora of deep passes during training camp, tantalizing Giants fans with his potential to take a major step forward.
Still, as Tony Del Genio highlighted, the biggest damper on the parade is the Giants’ offensive line. Aside from Andrew Thomas, questions abound. Evan Neal may be the biggest X-factor of the Giants’ season. John Michael Schmitz is promising but still a rookie. The guard situation is a revolving door.
This is nothing new for Jones. Among 33 quarterbacks with at least 1,000 dropbacks since 2019, only Sam Darnold (40.5%) has been under pressure more often than the Giants’ signal-caller (40.1%)
This is the first season, though, when he may be able to do something about it.
Time to throw
It’s common to see analysts point to a quarterback’s average time to throw as proof that they hold the ball too long or release the ball quickly. While there’s some merit to it, it ignores some confounding factors.
First of all, taking the average is not as important as the percentage of plays on which a quarterback gets rid of the ball quickly. The average can be skewed by calculated deep shots despite a high rate of releasing the ball early. Additionally, the longest average release times almost always belong to quarterbacks who use their legs because of their ability to extend plays. Most importantly, the quarterback is not the only factor in how quickly he releases the football. He needs to have an open target in order to release the ball quickly.
Here are Jones’ average time to throw, rate of dropbacks under 2.5 seconds, and ranks from 2019-22.
- 2019: 2.84 seconds (23/35), 43.1% (26/35)
- 2020: 2.71 seconds (20/36), 46.3% (24/35)
- 2021: 2.71 seconds (16/35), 46.1% (19/35)
- 2022: 3.02 seconds (30/35), 34.3% (32/35)
After having relatively stable metrics his first three years in the league, Jones’ average time to throw shot up in 2022, while his rate of releasing the ball in under 2.5 seconds plummeted. The most ready explanation for that is how poor his receiving corps was. While he never had the Bengals’ receiving corps to begin with, 2022 hit another level of futility.
Every quarterback has times when there is no receiver open. Jones simply had way too many of them.
Second-and-15, 7-0 TEN, first quarter
Third-and-5, 13-13, third quarter
First-and-10, 10-7 BAL, third quarter
First-and-10, 14-7 NYG, second quarter
Third-and-3, 24-3 PHI, second quarter
Third-and-9, 10-10, third quarter
Of course, there were also times when Jones bailed the pocket too early, stared down his receiver too long, or did not pull the trigger when he had an open receiver.
Second-and-6, 7-3 NYG, first quarter
The receiver is open in the flat here. Jones is reading in that direction. The second he sees the flat defender get depth, the ball should be out.
First-and-10, 0-0, first quarter
Once again, Jones can get the ball to his check down. There isn’t a ton of space, but on a first-down play, a yard or two is better than a sack.
Third-and-10, 21-10 NYG, fourth quarter
Jones’ internal clock needs to go off here, telling him to get rid of the ball. With a 21-10 lead in the fourth quarter, better to just let the ball go and punt.
Second-and-7, 17-13 JAX, third quarter
Seeing the Jaguars in man coverage and a linebacker set deep over the H-back, Jones could have recognized that the flat route was likely to have space and thrown it immediately. He wanted a bigger bite at the apple, but with the underneath man coverage and the safety over the top, there was little chance of hitting the over route from the outset.
The Giants simplified the offense for Jones in 2022 by giving him pure progression reads. He was not meant to deviate from the design of the play. It helped Jones process the field, but it also limited the possibility of finding an open receiver away from the progression.
The question is if the Giants will keep that in place in 2023 or give Jones more freedom to read the field. The answer is dependent on Jones himself: if the coaching staff feels he can do it, they will let him, but if they’ve seen evidence that he can’t take that next step, they’ll keep him constrained within the offense.
From the fact that the Giants gave Jones $82 million guaranteed, it’s reasonable to assume that they expect him to take that next step. That can unlock options for Jones, but only if he reads the defense properly to know where to look.
What will change?
This is the key question for Jones in 2023: Can he take advantage of his improved receiving corps to get rid of the ball quickly and negate pressure? How much command will he have of the offense — i.e., hot routes, audibles, etc. — to put himself in the best position against pressure looks?
This is what the NFL’s best quarterbacks do on a regular basis. Joe Burrow is the poster boy for adjusting his game to deal with a less-than-ideal offensive line. Despite having three of his five starting linemen rank below the 24th percentile in pass-blocking for their position, including both tackles, Burrow was pressured on just 26.5% of his drop backs, the third-lowest rate in the NFL. Even his 6.3% sack rate ranked 16th out of 33 quarterbacks despite a right tackle with a 44.2 pass-blocking grade. Although his pressure-to-sack ratio was poor (22.9%, 26th), he mitigated the pressure as much as possible.
How did Burrow manage it? By getting the ball out very quickly. His 2.49-second average time to throw was the second-quickest among passers, behind only Tom Brady. He released the ball in under 2.5 seconds 59.4% of the time, the second-highest rate in the NFL.
Obviously, Burrow can do this because he has an elite trio of receivers in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. While the Giants don’t have that kind of firepower among their receiving corps, they prioritized short-area quickness to a large extent. One purpose of that is to allow Jones to get the ball out more quickly. Can Jones make the right read and take advantage of his receivers? That’s what 2023 will teach us.
Furthermore, Burrow threw deep on only 8.6% of his pass attempts, the third-lowest mark among quarterbacks. He was not slinging the ball deep, just getting it out of his hands and letting his receivers do the rest. Jones can do the same thing, although 8.6% would be a big increase from his 4.9% rate a year ago. As much as the Giants need more explosive plays, that doesn’t need to come with Jones throwing the ball 30 yards downfield on a consistent basis.
Week 1 vs. Cowboys
In the 2022 Week 3 game against Dallas, Jones averaged 3.37 seconds to throw; that improved to 2.65 seconds in the second matchup. A big reason for that was his depth of target: 22 of his 27 pass attempts (81%) were behind the line of scrimmage or short. In Week 3, 20 of his 31 came in that area (64.5%), but it wasn’t as stark.
This may be what Jones needs to do against Dallas: get the ball out quickly and rely on his skill position players to make things happen.
The Chiefs-Lions season-opening matchup showed what can happen to a quarterback who does not have a game-changing weapon. Welcome, Patrick Mahomes, to a fraction of Daniel Jones’ existence for the last four years. Now that Jones has Waller and a number of receiving weapons, it’s time for him to take another step forward, even if the offensive line disappoints.