PART ONE: The Transition from Eli
Well, that escalated quickly
Most were surprised when New York Giants Head Coach Pat Shurmur went to rookie QB Daniel Jones after only two games, I included. When Jones was picked #6 overall the writing was on the wall that Eliâ€™s time as the starting QB was limited.
The two main questions were:
- How fast can Daniel get ready?
- How well is the offense and the team doing, to make it logical to keep Eli on the field?
Personally, I wanted Eli to play for the whole year. Iâ€™ll admit thatâ€™s coming from a fan of Eliâ€™s perspective. After being wasted the latter half of his career, I felt he deserved this last season to finish out his career and take one last shot with potentially a decent offensive line, an all-world RB, and some dependable receivers.
But two things became clear after Jones was drafted last April: Daniel was light years ahead of the curve for rookie QBs, and it didnâ€™t take long to see this team was not going to be competitive.
Play every snap like itâ€™s your last
Eli Manning was sharp most of the summer and added some zip on his fastball. A criticism from a year before. He also appeared much leaner than in recent years. No doubt in an attempt to improve pocket mobility. Another criticism from recent years. Thereâ€™s a saying in football: Play every snap like itâ€™s your last. Eliâ€™s talk with General Manager Dave Gettleman early this offseason mentally prepared him for just that possibility. Eli took it to heart and worked to get his body in great shape try to hold off the rookie signal-caller.
Before the season I thought Eli Manning and the Giants could build off the offensive success from the 2nd half of last season, be able to compete in most games, perhaps be .500, and best-case scenario compete for a fringe playoff spot down the stretch. Iâ€™m an optimist.
My biggest concern was when/if the Giants young defense — including new back end pieces — could jell quickly enough. They had an uphill task: Adjusting to the speed of the NFL, learning a new defense, and communicating and developing chemistry with new teammates. The defense is constantly reacting on the fly to what the offense is doing. Itâ€™s incredibly underrated by the average fan how important communication is on the defensive side is. That takes time. I thought the seasonâ€™s success depended on how quickly the defense could mature. It turns out a lot depended on it.
With OBJ shipped to Cleveland, the Giants didnâ€™t have a true #1 WR. But I felt comfortable with Tate, Shepard, Coleman, Latimer, Engram, and of course Saquon. That should be enough for an offense to be successful. Each bringing their own unique skills to the table.
First, Corey Coleman tears his ACL. Not good. Corey was set to improve the second year in the offense, but itâ€™s not the end of the world. Eli and the offense still had Tate, Saquon, Shep, Latimer, and Evan. Well, not so fast. Golden Tate gets suspended for the first four games. Thatâ€™s a pretty big blow to the offense. Eli does best with WRs that run good routes, that understand the art of the position, that understand space, how to use body leverage, and it helps if they consistently catch the ball. Basically, the antithesis of Rueben Randle. Give Eli stable professionals, not boom or bust combine all-stars, and heâ€™ll make it work. The most professional WR (based on characteristics mentioned) Eli has seen since maybe Plaxico Burress (no disrespect to Cruz or Nicks) wouldnâ€™t be suiting up for the crucial first four games.
Despite that Eli played well in the first game of the season. The offense moved the ball and had 470 yards of total offense. Red zone struggles and a non-existent defense — and the Giants were never really in it. With Sterling Shepard ruled out in week two against the Bills, the top three projected WRs on the depth chart before the season were now all out facing an elite Bills defense. Most recognized it wasnâ€™t a good offensive situation. The Bills scored touchdowns on 3 of their first 4 possessions, putting the Giants offense in a hole. With Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer starting at WR, the Giants couldnâ€™t matchup on the outside. Tipped balls, dropped passes, Eli never got in a rhythm, and Saquon and Evan Engram simply werenâ€™t enough.
Shurmur was enamored with Jones from the beginning â€“ and in my opinion, was looking for the first optical opportunity to put him in. The offense looking sloppy — he had that opportunity after the second game. This move had two major parts. First, Shurmur felt a more mobile QB would better represent his offensive system. Second, the defense was nowhere close to where it needed to be. Thereâ€™s â€œneeds improvementâ€, and thereâ€™s â€œneeds to go back to the drawing boardâ€. They looked like a pick-up flag football game at the park. I expected there to be growing pains with the defense, but it was obvious the defense had a ways to go. Sometimes young players hit the ground running – and sometimes they donâ€™t. The Giants simply werenâ€™t competing this year. To put it mildly. Without the Giants openly saying it, and perhaps earlier than expected, 2019 turned into a developmental year all-around.
Not about wins and losses
The Daniel Jones era was beginning and the season was no longer (at least for me) about wins and losses. It was about the development of its rookies and its other young players â€“ including 2nd-year players OLB Lorenzo Carter, DL B.J. Hill, DE R.J. Mcintosh, and CB Sam Beal. But Daniel Jonesâ€™ development — the potential future quarterback of the New York Football Giants for the next 10-15 years â€“ just became the centerpiece and focus of the 2019 season.
Last remnant of Giants Glory
Eli was no longer the starter. The two-time Super Bowl MVP and future Hall of Famer, the QB that started 210 straight games and never missed a game due to injury in 16 seasons. The last remnant of Giants Glory from almost a decade ago and a symbol of much happier times was taking a seat. I didnâ€™t like it, but I understood it. In an odd way, I was relieved for Eli.Â Someone that epitomized what a great Giant is, and someone that over the years gave his all every Sunday when it seemed like many didnâ€™t.Â As someone that was failed by his organization the 2nd half of his careerÂ — as competitive as Eli is — he no longer had to trot out there every game and attempt to win with a habitually inferior roster — letting the critics that were biased against him ever since the draft feel that depraved satisfaction.
Itâ€™s not about Eli not being able to play in the NFL anymore, he can, he showed that. Itâ€™s not about the NFL passing him and the pocket passer-by, like some have suggested. As a fan, I remember where I was during the 2007 NFC Championship Game (the lone Giants fan at Stadium View just east of Lambeau Field), Super Bowl 42 (my apartment with my parents and brother), 2011 Divisional Playoff win over the Packers (Section 121, Row 19, Seat 8, behind Giants bench), Super Bowl 46 (controlled solitude at home) â€“ itâ€™s about the memories that will last a lifetime; and Giants Nation respectfully inviting him to take a much-earned seat. He doesnâ€™t need to fight the battle anymore. Outnumbered and outgunned. Itâ€™s not that he canâ€™t, itâ€™s that he doesnâ€™t need to. As Giants fans know, and as the trophy case shows, heâ€™s done plenty.
PART TWO: Daniel Jones is the real deal
I was one of the few Giants fans that liked Daniel Jones before the draft. Sure, there were some bad plays on his college tape. But if I learned anything from watching the Giants and Eli specifically the past 10 years, itâ€™s that football is the ultimate team game â€“ and the QB to be successful needs blocking, receivers to get open, and receivers to catch the ball. Rhythm is an underrated aspect of a QB. Good play breeds good play, and bad play breeds bad play. Another reason why momentum and inertia are so important in football. Everything isnâ€™t necessarily a 1:1 ratio.
We knew there werenâ€™t any Duke players getting drafted outside of Daniel. When QBs are the lone ranger on the field they can fall in the trap of trying to do too much, and when its 1 on 11, it can look ugly. Itâ€™s important to decipher a QB trying to compensate for his poor team, from fundamentally poor play and bad habits. When every play is chaos, individual evaluation gets harder. I think many fell in this trap and were scared away from the occasional ugly play. Optics and â€œwow factorsâ€ seem to be all the rage now with quarterbacks.
Danny Dimes is making sense
I was encouraged by Danielâ€™s competitiveness in every play. He never complained or blamed his teammates for being bad football players (remind you of anyone?). He was mobile and could make accurate throws. Coached by David Cutcliffe, you knew heâ€™s going to be trained properly to be a professional quarterback. Having a degree in Economics from Duke, you knew heâ€™s a very smart kid. Preparation, study habits, maturity, self-improvement, all were never going to be an issue.
Daniel sold me and checked the final box on his pro day. During all the chaotic plays he had in college, it can be hard to get a consistent evaluation. I wanted to see how he threw when he wasnâ€™t running for his life every play. His pro day was flawless. Yes, heâ€™s throwing against air. But I wanted to see consistent accuracy and ball placement on a plain template to prove to me he had the requisite throwing ability. He proved that.
Donâ€™t evaluate QBs in a vacuum
Daniel also had the necessary experience in a challenging environment to overcome or navigate adversity if things got hard (think Eli in 2011 NFC Championship Game). As an example, compare Duke and Ohio State in collegiate talent. There is no comparison. Daniel Jones weathered the storm; while Dwayne Haskins played with future NFL OLman and WRs and is now struggling in the NFL. If Daniel was put in an improved environment with better protection and WRs, he has the passing ability to flourish. I said I thought he would be a better NFL QB than college QB. Iâ€™m seeing this now in the NFL. Too many times people evaluate QBs in a vacuum, rather than taking their environment into consideration. Daniel should only get better.
Iâ€™m part of the 11%. Iâ€™m not looking at what was passed on, Iâ€™m looking at what was taken. I think Daniel Jones is going to be a better NFL QB than he was college QB; & heâ€™s right fit for NYC. Outside of TLaw, there isnâ€™t a QB in next 3 yrs I can definitively say Iâ€™d rather have.
— Ben (@GiantFanInGB) May 2, 2019
When assessing young QBs itâ€™s important to not be definitive in your assessment too early. You can like what you see, but donâ€™t lose track that an NFL QB has a lot to learn. I donâ€™t think an NFL QB is ready to graduate to a complete versatile signal caller that can navigate the playoffs and win a Super Bowl until really his 4th season. There can be outliers â€“ but they are the exceptions, not the rule. Rookie QBs are going to make mistakes and Daniel has made his share, but theyâ€™re rookie mistakes I see as fixable.
Danielâ€™s mistakes are fixable
The three biggest mistakes I see: Holding the ball too long in the pocket, lack of feeling the rush, and physical ball security. All three issues in some aspects are about adjusting to the speed of the NFL game. Snaps and playing time will help Daniel speed up his processor, recognizing coverages quicker, recognizing separation quicker, and knowing more consistently when to pull the trigger and deliver the ball.
Feeling the rush can be partly instinctive, but it can also be associated with adapting and adjusting to the speed of the game. The more playing time Daniel gets, the more his internal clock should get fine-tuned. That coupled with going through his progressions more efficiently, he should be able to develop a proper balance of looking downfield while still maintaining a pocket awareness. Think of the first time you played dodgeball in gym class. It seemed like a lot was going on from multiple angles all around you. But eventually, the more times you played, things slowed down and you were able to multitask and increase your bubble awareness. Daniel is a very smart kid, an exceptional athlete, and a hard worker. I trust Daniel has the tools to get better in those areas and heâ€™ll figure it out.
The first two issues are more mental, which can be improved by playing time and experience. The fumbling is a physical issue. Physical issues can be fixed through drill repetition, reflexive muscle memory, and hard work. May not necessarily happen overnight, but Iâ€™m confident heâ€™ll fix it to a level thatâ€™s sustainable.
Give Gettleman credit
Itâ€™s still early, but if Daniel indeed continues on this positive path and is a FQB, Dave Gettleman should get a lot of credit and praise for not just the evaluation, but having the conviction to draft a quarterback many thought was a ridiculous pick at #6 overall. Gettleman didnâ€™t care what people thought or what the optics were. He knew his main job coming in was to pick the next New York Giants FQB for the next 15 years. The next Eli Manning so to speak.
The similarities between Eli and Daniel have been talked about. The physical appearance, the calm even-keel demeanor, coincidentally the same wardrobe, the intelligence and preparation, same college coach, the competitiveness, the maturity and professionalism, even a similar speech pattern. In Greek mythology, weâ€™ve heard of a phoenix cyclically regenerating and rising from the ashes in a symbol of renewal. If Daniel Jones ends up being the quarterback of the New York Giants for the next dozen years or so, Iâ€™d say thatâ€™s a pretty accurate metaphor.