There were a few surprises near the top of the 2019 NFL Draft, like Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock of the Oakland Raiders selecting Clelin Ferrell, anticipated to go in the back half of the first round, at No. 4 overall. No team made a bigger head-scratching decision, however, than the New York Giants who at No. 6 overall picked Duke quarterback Daniel Jones.
Jones going to the Giants wasn’t a tremendous surprise, as they also had the 17th pick and there had been rumors GM Dave Gettleman was a big Jones fan. Going sixth was a shock, though, especially after Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen fell into their lap. Gettleman explained afterward that he was a big fan of Jones after watching tape, but really fell in love with the quarterback at the Senior Bowl.
He also insisted he had Jones having the same grade as Allen. You’d be hard pressed to find a single soul who does draft analysis for a living who would even come close to agreeing.
Jones will come in and back up Eli Manning, a fellow acolyte of Duke coach David Cutcliffe, and while he could compete for the job soon, he may wait a significant amount of time before he’s brought into that starting role.
Gettleman’s defense of the pick is bizarre, but one had to think that highly of Jones to make this selection. There are a number of flaws in this logic, though, and we’ll start with the idea he could serve as a backup for multiple years. Many around the NFL have lamented the fact that player development has become less of a priority in recent years, and that’s a result of the incredible pressure coaching staffs and front offices are under to compete and win in the immediate or risk being let go. As such, players in need of development opportunity and reps before playing don’t necessarily get the focus, because staffs are much more concerned with the players that can offer them some assistance immediately.
The Giants, now on their third head coach since 2016, are no longer a franchise with anything close to the stability they had under Tom Coughlin. As such, Pat Shurmur, coming off a 5-11 campaign, is under pressure to win in the near future or suffer a similar fate as Bob McAdoo and Steve Spagnuolo. That’s going to be difficult with the roster as constructed, but so goes life in the NFL. If Manning struggles again (now without an All-Pro receiver in Odell Beckham Jr.), fans will be calling for Jones to be thrust in the fire and it’ll be hard to ignore those requests.
If the idea is for Jones to sit back and learn how to be a pro from Manning, that’d be alright if the franchise were in a place where it was more stable or if Jones came in with the statistical profile out of college to suggest he could, at least, step in and help out if needed in the immediate. Many will point to reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes as a QB that benefited tremendously from effectively redshirting as a rookie, but Mahomes is also a preternatural physical talent who was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in recent college football history at Texas Tech. Daniel Jones, quite simply, is far from that.
Jones does have the desired frame that NFL personnel folks drool over, standing 6’5 and 221 pounds. He’s a good athlete, running a 4.81 in the 40-yard dash, jumping 33 inches in the vertical, and posting a 10-foot broad jump. Watching Duke, there were times Jones’ mobility and athleticism were his best attribute. The problem is his passing stats never matched up with that frame and athleticism, as he completed 59.9 percent of his passes over his Duke career and averaged a paltry 6.4 yards per passing attempt.
If “quarterback with the ideal frame who’s running ability was often his best threat and often underperformed throwing the ball compared to perceived ability” sounds familiar, that’s because it is. This was also the argument for Josh Allen, the 10th overall selection of the Buffalo Bills a year ago. In his time on the field for Buffalo, he was, unsurprisingly, at his best running, while the accuracy issues that plagued him at Wyoming followed him to the NFL. Jones feels like Josh Allen-lite in that he is a good athlete, but not quite the same level of physical talent as Allen, and brings similar question with him to the highest level of the game.
And then there’s the issue of time and player development, especially as a first round pick at quarterback. I decided to look at the last decade of first round QBs, of which there are 30. There are six that closest match Jones’ statistical profile as a college quarterback, which is to say, not a prolific passer, low yards per attempt, and low completion percentage.
First, for a refresher, here are Daniel Jones’ career passing stats at Duke (and it’s also important to note his three seasons were all about the same):
764-for-1275 (59.9 percent), 8,201 yards (6.4 yards per attempt), 52 touchdowns, 29 interceptions
His six best college comps as first round picks are:
Jake Locker: 619-for-1147 (54 percent), 7,639 yards (6.7 ypa), 53 touchdowns, 35 interceptions
Ryan Tannehill: 484-for-774 (62.5 percent), 5,450 yards (7.0 ypa), 42 touchdowns, 21 interceptions
Blaine Gabbert: 568-for-963 (60.9 percent), 6,822 yards (7.3 ypa), 40 touchdowns, 18 interceptions
Christian Ponder: 596-of-965 (61.8 percent), 6,872 yards (7.1 ypa), 49 touchdowns, 30 interceptions
Josh Freeman: 680-for-1151 (59.1 percent), 8,078 yards (7.0 ypa), 44 touchdowns, 34 interceptions
Josh Allen: 365-for-649 (56.2 percent), 5,066 yards (7.8 ypa), 44 touchdowns, 21 interceptions
That is a less-than-inspiring group of pros and illustrates why so many were surprised to see Jones go as high as he did. The best case scenario on this list is probably Tannehill, who was at least a starting caliber quarterback before knee issues derailed his progress. The rest, though, don’t bode well for Jones (or Allen).
The draft is not just about college production, but projection to the future as a pro. At the quarterback position, however, it’s exceedingly rare for a successful NFL QB in the last decade to come out of college without at least a base level of production, one that Jones doesn’t meet.
If Giants fans are looking for a comp for a bit of optimism, they don’t have to look any further than their current starter. Eli Manning, who played for Cutcliffe at Ole Miss, had eerily similar college production to Jones — 829-for-1363 (60.8 percent), 10,119 yards (7.4 ypa), 81 touchdowns, 35 interceptions and became a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Now, Manning’s play over his NFL career has also sparked a number of “is he actually good?” thinkpieces along the way, but he certainly represents the most optimistic comp for Jones, even if likely unrealistic.
Even if that is the hope for Jones, taking him at No. 6 in the draft, even one with a weak QB class, was a tremendous reach. He’s not a player that jumps off at you either statistically or on film, usually something you want in a first round pick. Given what players of his production level have done as quarterbacks in the league, the evidence points, overwhelmingly, to this being one of the worst first round picks in recent history, not even when factoring in the notion that they might have him sit for multiple years.