Without the benefit of even a preseason game, the best you can do with trying to tell whether Daniel Jones is ready to take the next step in his NFL progression is in practice. And for a good chunk of an abbreviated training camp due to COVID-19, the evaluation process is even more complicated. Especially when the one word that invariably comes to mind after seeing him throw against his own team is: Meh.
Oh, he’ll make some nice throws, especially to tight end Evan Engram, who has had a splendid camp and is shaping up to be one of Jones’ primary targets. But there are plenty of passes that fall short. Or don’t have enough zip. Or miss the mark. And in an intrasquad scrimmage at MetLife Stadium last Friday night, he was under such duress because of his leaky offensive line that he often looked overwhelmed.
But to the man who has staked his reputation on Jones — the man whose career will in large part be decided by whether Jones takes his team to a championship or simply isn’t up to the challenge of becoming a capable quarterback — this will all work out in the end.
“I’ll say this: I’m comfortable and confident with him right now, for what that’s worth,” Giants general manager Dave Gettleman said Wednesday in his first public remarks during this year’s training camp. “He’s getting there.”
Gettleman remains convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jones will be a viable NFL quarterback who can lead the Giants for years to come.
“He’s going to be fine,” the GM said. “He’s going to be a fine NFL quarterback.”
Jones came to the Giants after a solid apprenticeship at Duke under the highly respected coach, David Cutcliffe, who has been a mentor for Eli and Peyton Manning. And Cutcliffe believes that Jones will be more than just a fine NFL quarterback.
“He can win a championship,” Cutcliffe said shortly after the Giants took Jones at No. 6 overall in the 2019 draft. “He’s that level of NFL quarterback.”
Gettleman won’t make that kind of pronouncement about Jones. Nor should he. There are still many steps to go in that process, and Jones is still a young quarterback who needs the benefit of time to make things work. Complicating matters further is the fact that Jones is now learning a new offense for the second straight year, with Jason Garrett taking over the offense after the firing of head coach Pat Shurmur.
“It’s how he plays, what kind of year he has, how successful is he running his third offense in three years, running the team, how he handles the leadership piece,” Gettleman said. “It’s all of those things and obviously how well he plays.”
Jones certainly showed promise in many spots last year. He was brilliant in a 32-31 comeback win over Buccaneers in his first start, when he threw two touchdown passes and ran for the game-winner in the fourth quarter. He had four touchdown passes against the Jets. And five touchdown throws against Washington. He had a more than respectable 24-12 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio and a solid 87.7 rating.
Now about those fumbles . . .
Jones had a season-long struggle with ball security, finishing with 18 fumbles and 11 lost fumbles — both league highs.
“I can say this very comfortably, the only thing that was a little frustrating were the turnovers, the fumbles,” Gettleman said. “He had a solid rookie year. He did things that no other rookie quarterback has ever done. For some reason, I feel like the fumbles have overshadowed all that stuff.”
Gettleman may have been impressed most by Jones’ poise.
“He showed he can bring us from behind to win a game,” the GM said. “He showed he can make big throws in an overtime period. The kid accomplished a lot last year. I would never put a win-loss thing on it. For me, it’s all about Daniel improving, and improving in all areas, which I’m confident he will.”
He is about to find out. We’re all about to find out. Jones is less than two weeks away from his 2020 debut in a Monday night game against the Steelers, whose hyper aggressive defense will provide a formidable challenge. It won’t take long to see just how far Jones has come after some promising moments last year.
Or how far he has to go.