The first round of the 2019 NFL Draft has produced a superstar quarterback in the Cardinals’ No. 1 overall pick, Kyler Murray. On the other hand, Dwayne Haskins quickly faded in Washington and is looking to save his career as a backup in Pittsburgh.
Somewhere in the middle with still a wide range of results is Daniel Jones, whom the Giants took away from Duke for sixth overall. Jones is still opening for New York in his third season, but it’s also his final season to show that he can be the franchise’s long-term number one passer.
Jones has a regular season record of 8-19 in Week 2 of 2021 by replacing two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning. In those 27 games, Jones has committed 40 turnovers: 22 interceptions and 18 fumbles. Jones has also been sacked 85 times, an average of more than three times per game.
The numbers have not been good for Jones. There have been some flashes with great passes and great runs, but the competition and efficiency just weren’t there. They all add up to put Jones on the brink of being a major flop in the NFL draft, unless he can turn things around quickly.
So what has gone wrong for Jones since he took over in Week 3 of ’19 with an impressive winning comeback against the Buccaneers? Here’s a breakdown of his first three NFL seasons:
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Rookie season 2019: bad offensive line, injuries and lame duck scheme
The Giants have been trying to fix their forward five for a while. They got left tackle Nate Solder and right guard Kevin Zeiter well past their prime with previous teams. Will Hernandez, a 2018 second-round guard, has disappointed both sides. While 2020 No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas might be turning a corner in Year 2 to help at left tackle, he wasn’t there when Jones arrived either.
Jones was sacked 38 times in 12 starts and didn’t have time to throw anything deep, averaging 6.6 yards per attempt. He took a beating over the course of the season, spraining his ankle in December that cost him two games.
On the bright side, Jones had an acceptable TD: INT ratio of 24 to 12 and also led two Manning-style winning series as a rookie. Running back Saquon Barkley didn’t live up to his spectacular rookie season, but he remained the effective centerpiece of the offense when healthy in his second season in the face of Jones throwing the ball downfield often.
For the most part, when he wasn’t pitching rookie Darius Slayton, Jones was controlled as a rookie and not allowed to grow much under former offensive-minded coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who had a past of conflicting concepts. That failure to bring out the best in Jones cost Shurmur and Shula their jobs, with Joe Judge and former Cowboys offensive-minded coach Jason Garrett as their respective replacements. Unfortunately, the Giants have yet to see an improvement in that newfound mental confidence.
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Sophomore Depression in 2020: Not Much Help, More Injuries, and No Saquon
Jones’ offensive line offered no better solutions in Year 2 with Thomas still getting his feet wet in the NFL and Solder deciding to opt out. There has been a glaring lack of continuity across the line with the shakeup at both tackles and center, an equally critical position for a young quarterback.
Garrett’s plan was to go with the offense with many runs that he operated in Dallas with Ezekiel Elliott, with only Barkley as the new versatile workhorse. That plan was ruined when Barkley battled the Steelers’ powerful defense in Week 1 and fell with a torn ACL at the end of the season against the Bears in Week 2.
More was given to Jones as Slayton was still his best receiving option. Sterling Shepard traded the concussion that cost him games in early 2019 for the grass. Shepard, a running back with good hands who can drive any quarterback when healthy (see Week 1), has missed 10 games in the past two seasons. Tight end Evan Engram helped second-year Jones as a safety blanket after missing most of ’19, but he’s hurt again. The 2020 lack of weaponry, highlighted by Barkley’s great absence, put Jones on an island. The shaky protection, limited targets and the switch between backs also saw Jones take off and run more than ideal as the team’s second leading rider.
There was a total system failure again and Jones was also not immune from injury error, given the load on him. As in the previous December, Jones hurt himself again, this time with a hamstring strain that added to more ankle problems. When Jones needed the most support to develop, he had the least. He was sacked 45 times out of 14 times, at a higher dropback rate with the same 6.6 yards per attempt.
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Crossroads of the third year of 2021: Are the changes of the Giants gigantic enough?
Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who was under initial pressure to make Jones’ top pick, did his best to improve things around his quarterback beyond fledgling Thomas this offseason. The team spent big free agent capital on former Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay and also used a first-round pick on Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney, after missing Alabama’s DeVonta Smith.
The Giants also got stronger backing for Barkley in former Bronco and Raider Devontae Booker and beefed up complementary blocking and tight end reception with former Viking Kyle Rudolph. All of that, plus the hope that Barkley would return fully healthy and in rookie form, gave the Giants high expectations for Jones and the offense.
Jones wasn’t bad in the opening 27-13 loss to the Broncos. He fumbled another fumble in Week 1 but looked more comfortable and confident in his surroundings and also used his legs well again for a second TD. He was also locked up in Slayton and Shepard.
The next step will be to strengthen the connection with Golladay and Toney, who were paralyzed and lost critical time in training camp with their new quarterback. They offer an extra large playing capacity and dexterity in the red zone. It will also be nice if Barkley doesn’t just come back from his knee injury and see closer to 25 touches per game versus just a dozen. Thomas played well against a tough Denver passing run, but Solder was a disaster on his return, a shell of his old Patriots self at 33. The immediate trade should be with 2020 third-round Matt Peart at right tackle.
That’s a lot of wholesale moves in a short amount of time to try to support and fix Jones. But that’s also because the Giants know they are running out of time with Jones. Gettleman and Judge’s jobs are also at stake with a lack of winning tied to a lack of offense.
Jones is tougher with better protection and personal playmaking is a big part of the equation. The other is getting the right play from Garrett that takes full advantage of Jones’ immense physical tools at 6-5, 230 pounds. If Garrett isn’t the answer, the Giants should switch there too, looking for one last offensive spark for Jones.
This could be the only chance for the Giants to see the real Jones. Or the third time is the final charm or disgrace: another bullish quarterback who is ruined by a perfect storm of dysfunction.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.