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This cannot be decided by a caucus, determined by a vote or settled with a hot-take Twitter poll. This cannot be stamped as true after an analytics-driven study flowing with all sorts of numbers, rankings and data.
This is no open-and-shut case.
Figuring out what Daniel Jones is, what he might become and projecting his legacy after he’s through wearing a New York Giants uniform is more risky and uncertain now than it was a year ago. And that is unsettling. So much more should be known about Jones now, at 23 and two seasons into his NFL career, than what we thought we knew after his rookie year.
We know he is big and strong and fast — with straight-line speed, more than anything. We know he gets hurt — he missed two games as a rookie with a high ankle sprain and two games in 2020 with hamstring and ankle issues. We know he fumbles too often — 18 lost in 2019, 11 lost in 2020. We know his 2019 production (24 touchdown passes, 12 interceptions) was not matched (11 TDs, 10 INTs) in 2020. We know he can run — 702 career rushing yards, averaging 6.4 yards per attempt — but that he is not especially nimble navigating the pocket. We know his offensive line (more so in 2019) was lacking, and combined with his occasional lack of awareness, resulted in too many (83) sacks.
We know he works his butt off, that his teammates took an instant liking to him and that he quickly earned their respect. We know he shows far more personality behind closed doors than he does in public. We sense the responsibility of following Eli Manning continues to weigh on him. We know the timing of a first year in a new offensive system with no live spring work because of the global pandemic was debilitating, and losing star running back Saquon Barkley in Week 2 was crushing. We know his record as a starter is 8-18.
Jones will be the Giants’ quarterback in 2021. There is no debate. Whether this is delaying the inevitable letdown or setting up a long and fruitful partnership is up for serious debate and conjecture. Here we go:
The view from the inside
Joe Judge, late in the season, doubled down on his conviction that Jones is his quarterback. This conviction flies in the face of any actual statistical evidence presented by the first-year head coach, whose team was compromised by the NFL’s near-worst (31st) scoring offense.
“I told Daniel I had to evaluate him and see if he was the answer, a guy we could build with,’’ Judge said recently. “You could see there were traits the team responded to and his play was raised. Stats are what they are, but when you see a guy command the huddle, change within the game plans, the way they prepare, that says a lot. In a lot of ways, we could say this guy gives us confidence to go forward, maybe in things that go unnoticed by the naked eye, that give our team a chance to be successful.”
Judge said Jones, “prepared away from the field better than anybody else on a daily basis.’’ This is all quality stuff, but at some point, the things that go “unnoticed by the naked eye’’ must be revealed in terms of points, wins and an aura that the quarterback is keeper.
At times it seemed as if this coaching staff were starting from scratch with Jones, breaking him down and then slowly trying to build him back up. In many ways, it felt like his first NFL season all over again.
The view from outside
Yes, they can.
That is the opinion of Dan Shonka, longtime NFL talent evaluator, in response to the most important question of all when it comes to evaluating Daniel Jones: Can the Giants win a Super Bowl with him as their starting quarterback?
“You saw what Eli Manning did. He had some talent around him and a great defense,’’ Shonka, national scout and general manager of Ourlads Scouting Service, told The Post. “Yeah, I think he can. Quarterbacks, if they don’t make mistakes, if they don’t turn the ball over — yes, I think he can.’’
This might be comforting, or maybe worrisome, to Giants fans. If the stars have to be aligned just so for Jones to win big, perhaps he does not possess the upside needed to actually make it big. What about Jones’ ability to lift the performance of those around him?
“I think Daniel Jones is gonna be what he is,’’ Shonka said. “He’s gonna be a middle-of-the-road starting quarterback in the NFL, work his way into the 15-20 range. He’ll be a piece, I don’t think he’ll ever be a star that’s gonna carry a team. He’s got to have guys like Saquon Barkley and the receivers around him and have the running game.
“I think he can be a really good game manager-type quarterback. What bothers me is he turns the ball over more than I remembered in college. Is he a turnover machine?
“Daniel’s a smart guy, he’s a little more athletic than I gave him credit for coming out of Duke. He has a chance, but he’s got to have the team around him.’’
If Daniel Jones were listed on the Dow Jones, Daniel Jeremiah said he would buy the stock, while admitting the returns thus far have not been impressive.
“If you ignore the numbers and just look at a couple of things,’’ Jeremiah, an NFL Network analyst, said. “Number one, I think he can do everything he needs to do, so his skills translate. And the second thing, he’s shown his toughness, so those are the things he’s really got going for him. Now, the results haven’t come yet. I think the underlying financials there are solid, that’s why I’d feel I’d be OK buying his stock, because I feel there’s a pretty good foundation there.’’
Jeremiah, formerly a college scout for the Ravens, Browns and Eagles, uses something he calls “the confetti test’’ when evaluating quarterbacks. Can you close your eyes and imagine confetti falling on him after winning the Super Bowl?
What can be imagined for Jones?
“I see a tremendous upside,’’ Jeremiah said. “I don’t think he’s gonna be a top-five quarterback. I think top 10-12 quarterback, perennial playoff quarterback. You put the right pieces around him, you could win at the highest level. But he’s going to be dependent on what’s around him. That’s normal. There’s only a handful of quarterbacks that can win and play really well independent of what’s around him.’’
The view from a quarterback
First things first: As far as feelings for Daniel Jones as a quarterback, is it swipe right or swipe left?
“I like him,’’ Greg McElroy said. “I think he’s got all the physical skills that you would want. Traditional release, he’s athletic enough in today’s day and age in the NFL, he can run. There’s some examples where he gets kind of stuck on something and he sticks with it a little too long and it leads to a bad decision or it leads to the pocket collapsing around him.
“There’s a lot to like about his physical ability. He throws a nice ball, a catchable ball. I think he can be the guy. It’s a matter of taking that next step.’’
McElroy, host of the SiriusXM podcast “Inside the Pocket,’’ started at quarterback in 2009 for undefeated national champion Alabama and spent two years as a Jets backup and one on the Bengals’ practice squad. He knows the position. When he studies Jones, he sees someone who might be too wrapped up in it.
“He wants to be good so bad, you can tell, it’s painfully obvious how hard he’s working at it,’’ McElroy said. “Oftentimes his desire to be a great player is in some ways hurt him.’’
It is possible Daniel Jones is trying too hard?
“If you’re desperate to get it done, if you’re desperate to pull something off and you’re desperate to endear yourself to the fan base, oftentimes you’ll push and try to pull things off that you shouldn’t even try,’’ McElroy said. “You want to be the hero, you want to make the play, you want to show everybody it can be done when the play can’t be done, it can’t be pulled off, it’s too difficult. I don’t think he’s lost confidence, which is encouraging.’’
The production drop-off from Year 1 to Year 2? Some of it can be traced back to the imperfect storm caused by COVID-19 shutdowns of live work in the spring intermixing with the task of learning new coordinator Jason Garrett’s offensive system.
“There were just a lot of things that were working against him,’’ McElroy said. “He loses their best offensive weapon early in the season when Saquon goes down. They just had some serious adversity that you never want to make excuses for, especially in the New York market. Expecting a young player to play at a ridiculously high level, under the circumstances, was probably asking a little too much.’’
The bottom line: Can the Giants win a Super Bowl with Daniel Jones?
“Yes,’’ McElroy said.
“The Los Angeles Rams almost won a Super Bowl with Jared Goff. Yes, you can do it. There’s a lot of areas I would point to with the Giants and I would say ‘All right, they need to fix this, they need to fix that, they need to do this, they need to do that.’ You can get him a couple more weapons. There’s a bunch of things I would do in New York before I worry majorly about the quarterback spot.
“You have to have a great supporting cast, and if you surround Daniel Jones with some really good players and you have an excellent draft this spring, then I think you can absolutely win with him. But you got to have some good pieces with him.’’
The view to come
Jones sounded dumbfounded when he was presented with the theory that quarterbacks often take a quantum step forward in Year 3. He does not have to buy into it, but he does have to live it in 2021.
Assess the 2018 quarterback class. Two of them, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield, made significant strides in their third seasons. Lamar Jackson was the league MVP in his second year. Sam Darnold has yet to prove he can command a successful team.
Jones is a product of the 2019 class, and his third year is the time to make it happen. He needs a healthy Barkley and a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Look what the addition of Stefon Diggs did to help Allen get to the next level in Buffalo.
And Jones has to help himself.
“There’s just too many performances that are just really, really bad,’’ McElroy said. “If he continues to turn the ball over the way he’s turning it over, which is not really that unique to young quarterbacks, then he’s going to have a short-lived career as a starter and as a franchise piece.’’
There is no yea-or-nay yet on Daniel Jones. At this time next year, the verdict should be in and rendered.
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