Duke QB coach — “Giants fans are really going to love what Daniel is going to be about”
Outraged New York Giants fans gave the pick an ‘F’ after GM Dave Gettleman decided to select quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. The back-and-forth over whether or not the Giants could have used the 17th pick, or traded up from 17 with that second first-round pick to select Jones, has turned into a ridiculous he-said, he-said war of words with no obvious winner.
Fact is, none of that really matters. What will matter in the end is whether or not Gettleman will be proven right or wrong with the pick that will both define his legacy as Giants’ GM and set the team’s course for anywhere from the next five to 15 years.
The process of getting that answer begins this weekend as the Giants’ draftees, minus Corey Ballentine, undrafted free agent signees and rookie camp tryout hopefuls report to Quest Diagnostics Training Center for the team’s rookie mini-camp.
Practices will be held Friday and Saturday afternoons, with media allowed to watch, giving us our first glimpse of the rookie class. Especially of the player the Giants hope will successfully take the reigns from Eli Manning.
There are, quite obviously, more than a few doubters. Jones said this week that he has not “paid too much mind to that” criticism.
Why will Jones prove the doubters wrong?
Zac Roper was the quarterbacks coach at Duke for all 36 games Jones played with the Blue Devils. In a phone conversation this week, I asked Roper that question. Why will Jones prove the doubters wrong?
“The biggest reason is the physical tools, the physical talent. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s a very twitchy athlete. He’s got a really, really good arm and he’s got something that you can’t teach. I don’t care how athletic someone is, how gifted they are, he has the innate ability to be supremely accurate with the football,” Roper said.
“That accuracy and that anticipation that he plays with makes him even more accurate. So it starts with the physical tools. Obviously there are a lot of intangibles. Very, very intelligent. High football IQ. He knows how to work and prepare. He was very good at that at an early age. Knew how to watch tape, got better, is always trying to improve.
“The tangibles are there and the intangibles are there.”
There are, of course, those who disagree
SB Nation’s Spencer Hall remains practically apoplectic that Gettleman put the future of the Giants’ franchise in Jones’ statistically-challenged hands:
Gettleman, the general manager of the New York Giants, took Duke quarterback Daniel Jones without flinching in the first round of the NFL Draft. The sketchiest oyster of them all in the NFL’s seafood buffet of talent, Jones got a no-look vote of confidence, first-round money, and a shot at an NFL starting quarterback gig from Gettleman and the Giants for reasons that frankly not even Gettleman seems to be able to explain without making the situation worse.
Jones got drafted at No. 6 despite leaving Duke with little to suggest he deserved first-round consideration at all. His numbers didn’t make him one of the top picks in his own college football conference, much less in the total talent pool of the 2019 NFL Draft. He performed poorly against good defenses, didn’t inspire any particular awe in peer and coach reviews, and didn’t knock anyone flat with his physical prowess. Gettleman saw Eli Manning where a lot of others saw Cooper.
That, and the rest of Hall’s piece, is perhaps a bit dramatic. It does, however, capture the way many on the outside feel about the Giants’ decision. Our own Mark Schofield had Jones No. 6 on his quarterback board before the draft, but admitted that he knew “my opinion differs wildly from the league.”
The more you follow post-draft analysis, the more it appears that league talent evaluators were split over whether Jones or Dwayne Haskins, who went 15th to the Washington Redskins, was QB2 in the draft.
But, the stats say he was terrible at Duke
Our Dan Pizzuta tweeted this week that Jones’ “college resume would make him a massive statistical outlier for NFL success.”
Jones completed just 59.9 percent of his passes during three collegiate seasons. A chart from SB Nation’s Bill Connelly showing advanced quarterback metrics puts Jones near the bottom of most categories in comparison to other 2019 draft-eligible quarterbacks. Before the draft, Connelly wrote of Jones that “if I were an NFL general manager, I’d be letting someone else take that risk.” SB Nation’s Alex Kirshner piled on post-draft by throwing even more shovel fulls of statistical dirt on Jones’ abilities, or lack thereof.
Here are a couple of Kirshner’s nuggets:
He started for three years, and he never put up a passer rating better than 131.7, ranking 66th among FBS qualifiers in 2018. The average NFL starting QB these days ranked around 25th in the country in passer rating in his last college year. The only regular starter in 2018 who ranked lower in his last college year was Allen, 73rd as a Wyoming junior.
Jones gained 6.8 yards per throw in 2018 — the best of his career, but eighth in the ACC and 81st in the country.
According to pass-charting by Derrik Klassen (in a spreadsheet here), Jones compares poorly to other top QB prospects on passes of all ranges from zero yards to 20-plus, and got to throw more short passes than most of his peers. He also did poorly when under pressure and on third and fourth downs. Pro Football Focus, which charts every game and has its own float of advanced stats, ranks Jones 70th overall and fifth among QBs.
What of all that statistical mumbo-jumbo?
In many ways the evaluations of Jones pit the traditional, veteran scouting community against the new-age, self-made, analytical, Internet scouting community. Old-school guys Gettleman, and others who believe in Jones, are basically shouting “phooey” at the top of their lungs at the “but, his stats are bad” analysis. Mostly, the traditionalists say they know a quarterback when they see one.
Gettleman, of course, drafted Jones. He had to eventually select a successor to Eli Manning. Jones was his choice. After the pick, he said this to New York media:
“He was up there with everybody else on our board in terms of value and he was just perfect for us. I really believe in this kid. I really believe he is going to be a really nice, quality quarterback for us, for our franchise.”
The Giants’ GM probably would have helped himself if that’s where he had stopped talking. His various justifications — three series at the Senior Bowl, two teams that would have taken Jones before the 17th pick, etc., etc. — have not helped.
Hall of Fame executive Gil Brandt has said he sees a young Peyton Manning when he watches Jones.
NFL analyst Brian Baldinger says he sees a terrible Duke team that rendered Jones’ statistics moot:
.@Giants @Daniel_Jones10 #GiantsQB had to endure most Saturdays full of wrong routes, poor protection, and the drops. Did I mention the DROPS? Just once, I wish Coach K would let Zion put on the pads. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/oHXwIWdYQc
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) April 30, 2019
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said it wasn’t fair to Jones to judge him by his numbers.
“Duke doesn’t have the talent around the quarterback to judge him. I think it’s a lot of unfair criticism from some reports I’ve heard,” Kiper said. “Go back and watch him. The dropped passes and the pressure he was under, the offensive line was outmanned by a lot of defensive fronts yet he hung in there. He’s a super tough kid.”
Giants’ coach Pat Shurmur also said you have to look past the numbers to see what Jones really is.
“I think when you watch him play, you can’t just look at the raw numbers and say this guy can do it or can’t do it? There’s reasons why a ball is complete or incomplete. I really wouldn’t share with you why that is,” Shurmur said. “I thought he was very productive, I thought he was competitive and gritty, and he helped his team win football games. It’s not a fair comparison sometimes, so you have to watch the player compete and work with what he has. I thought he did a heck of a job leading the Duke football team.”
I asked Roper about those stats, and about whether it was fair to compare his numbers to someone like Haskins, who played with superior talent.
“I do think stats matter. Ultimately, the stats that matter are points per game as an offensive player. How that leads to victories,” Roper said.
“His stats are there. I think you’ve gotta take some of those things with a grain of salt. With anything sometimes numbers can be skewed.
“This young man is fantastic football player. He’s going to be a fantastic pro for a long time.”
Making an impression at Duke
You likely know the story of how Jones ended up at Duke. Lightly recruited out of Charlotte Latin High School, partially because of a broken wrist as a junior, he was likely headed to Princeton until coach Larry McNulty pitched him to Duke coach David Cutcliffe at the last minute.
Cutcliffe, mentor to the Mannings, bought. There weren’t any scholarships left at Duke, but Jones went there, anyway. He eventually earned that scholarship, and, of course, now a whole lot more.
Roper said the Jones’ “hype machine” at Duke started when he was just an 18-year-old redshirt freshman running the scout team.
“He was making uncanny throws, really presenting a lot of problems to our defense, both the starters and the second group. Making some throws that aren’t normal throws,” Roper said. “Coach Cutcliffe kept coming over to the offensive coaches, saying ‘hey, you ought to see what Daniel’s doing over here as the scout team quarterback, what he’s doing to the defense.’ He was frustrating the defensive coaches. You just don’t see guys do that all the time on the scout team. They’re not always first-rounders down there that young.
“He really impressed us early.”
Here is Cutcliffe telling basically that same story to Giants.com:
Who better to provide insight on Daniel Jones than his college coach, David Cutcliffe on a brand-new Giants Huddle podcast.
— New York Giants (@Giants) May 1, 2019
That continued once Jones got to play
Gettleman said before the draft that it was important for him to see and understand how a quarterback would handle adversity.
“You will have adversity up here. I don’t care how great a player you are,” Gettleman said. “Everyone has adversity. Everyone. Who is mentally tough enough to say, OK, it happened once, it is not happening again? With a lot of these guys, it is a very legitimate question. You have to dig so deep to see where they have had adversity. It is painful but it is part of the evaluation.”
You could say Jones faced adversity by simply having to prove he belonged at Duke, by having the courage to walk on and earn his scholarship.
Roper went deeper. He pointed to a game at Notre Dame in 2016, the fourth game of Jones’ career, when he led Duke to a pair of late scores in a 38-35 come-from-behind victory. He also pointed to a “banged-up” Jones leading the Blue Devils to a pair of victories at the end of 2017, games they needed to win to become bowl eligible, and in 2018 to his toughness in returning to the lineup three weeks after breaking his collarbone.
Speaking to Giants.com, Cutcliffe told John Schmeelk that Jones was playing despite a broken rib.
“There are a number of examples of him handling the challenges of being a big-time quarterback,” Roper said. “He has handled those things and he’ll be ready to handle those things as a pro.”
“New York is the best landing spot for him.”
That quote came from Roper when I asked him about Jones’ fit with the Giants.
Schofield had indicated that Jones would need to find the right team to be a successful NFL quarterback. Matt Williamson told us recently that the Giants were a comfortable landing spot for Jones.
“The Giants were one of many franchises that did their homework on him, but nobody did better homework than the New York Giants,” Roper said. “Obviously they really, really wanted him. You see that with the pick they made at six. That part of it is always huge on how successful a guy can be.
“They have a veteran, professional quarterback in Eli that will be of good benefit for him. There are a variety of reasons why New York is the best landing spot for him.”
A mini-film study
if you want more insight on what @Daniel_Jones10 will bring to the @Giants check out @DukeFOOTBALL HC @DavidCutcliffe‘s breakdown of Jones’ film at his pre-draft press conference last week https://t.co/mS4xLjIA15
— Lance Medow (@LanceMedow) April 29, 2019
Above is a 12-minute breakdown from Cutcliffe on some on the nuances of quarterback play that he believes make Jones a special player.
“He definitely knows how to play the position. Obviously there’s some coaching involved in that, a pedigree of producing quarterbacks. Coach Cutcliffe’s track record speaks for itself, but those guys have still got to do it. Daniel is one of those guys that can take those things and apply them. He’s just going to get better and better the more he plays,” Roper said.
“He plays the position the way you want a guy to be able to play it. He can get you in and out of plays, get you from a bad play into a good play. He’ll be able to change protections. He’ll be able to do the things that you’re talking about manipulating defenders. Using his eyes, using his shoulders.”
Roper thinks Jones could be ready sooner rather than later.
“Obviously there’s always going to be a learning curve every step that you take,” he said. “There will be a learning curve for him, but he’ll handle those things well and that learning curve will go fast for him.”
The Eli comparisons
They are obviously numerous. The Cutcliffe connection. The size and build (Manning 6-foot-5, 218 and Jones 6-5, 220). The playing style. The demeanor. The side-by-side photos of Manning and Jones along with an accompanying chart posted this week by Peter King are, in fact, stupidly eerie in their similarities.
“Eli was always prepared. Eli was always very thorough in all the things that he was doing,” said Roper, a graduate assistant at Ole Miss when Manning was playing there.
“Being that thorough is one of the things that has helped Eli be the player that he is. Daniel obviously cut from a very similar cloth in how they go about their business. There is a certain way we want to train those guys and help get them ready, so those similarities are there.
“There are similarities that go along with how the play the position and obviously some of the skill sets are similar.”
“I think New York Giants fans are really going to love what Daniel is going to be about and how he’s going to go about representing the franchise.”
If he ends up helping the Giants win games, and eventually championships, all the noise surrounding his arrival will be little more than a footnote.