Saviors come in all different shapes and sizes.
For the Giants, he’s 6-5, 220 pounds and is considered the prototype pocket passer who also has the speed to make things happen with his legs.
For the Cardinals, he’s 5-10, 195 pounds and is at the controls of an avant-garde passing game that someday might change the way we view offenses. And he, too, can run like the wind.
Welcome to Daniel Jones vs. Kyler Murray, a fascinating matchup between the quarterbacks now being counted on to resurrect the Giants and Cardinals. Their names were called only minutes apart by commissioner Roger Goodell on draft night in Nashville last April 25, and now they will go head-to-head for the first time in what each player's team hopes will be a long and fruitful career.
Murray, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner out of Oklahoma, went first overall to the Cardinals, who got rid of Josh Rosen after only one year. Jones, a three-year starter at Duke, was taken with the sixth pick. Their careers will always be linked by their draft class, even if their styles are markedly different.
Jones is just what the Giants want in a quarterback: tall, good arm, serious student of the game. He burst onto the scene after an 0-2 start with a brilliant performance in his NFL debut, accounting for four touchdowns in a thrilling comeback win over the Buccaneers in Tampa. He won again the following week against a hapless Redskins team but struggled in back-to-back losses to the Vikings and Patriots.
Murray is on the cutting edge of quarterbacks, a player who is small in stature but immensely productive nonetheless. Murray has been the Cardinals’ starter from Day 1 for first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, who recruited the quarterback to Texas Tech out of high school and now gets to work with him at the highest level of the game.
Kingsbury has brought his famed “Air Raid” offense to the Cardinals, an offense that pushes the envelope in the passing game and requires a special quarterback to make it function at maximum efficiency.
“Any time you have a guy that can make plays with his feet like [Murray] can, it just adds that different dimension for us,” Kingsbury said. “He’s been able to make some off-schedule plays that have kept us on the field on third down or in the red zone. Having that extra element has been a real plus to our offense so far.”
Each quarterback still is very much a work in progress, but both have done little to lessen the conviction that their teams placed in them by making Jones and Murray the faces of their franchises.
Now it’s a matter of getting the most out of them.
''He has shown he is willing to work and progress,” Kingsbury said of Murray, who is coming off his best game with three touchdown passes against the Falcons. “He’s really adjusted his game over the first month and a half to fit what we do offensively and limit his negative plays. He’s doing all the things that we’ve asked him to do. We knew he had the talent to be a special player, and it’s all about the price you are willing to pay once you get here, and he’s starting to show those things.”
After an electrifying debut, Jones is dealing with the grind of the NFL season and the painstaking process of developing as a pro quarterback.
“I think it’s been, looking back on the month, kind of up and down,” said Jones, who has five touchdown passes and six interceptions, including three in a 35-14 loss to the Patriots. “I’ve been inconsistent overall. I’ve been good and been bad. I think there are certainly a lot of things to learn. When you look at the scheme or some of the decisions, some of my habits or bad habits, I think there are a lot of things to learn.”
Pat Shurmur had a recent heart-to-heart talk with Jones in hopes of finding consistency within his young quarterback.
“I think he’s been very aggressive,” Shurmur said. “He’s a very aggressive thrower and he tries to get the most out of every play. But again, it’s a fine line. As you go through it and see different situations, you execute route combinations multiple times against multiple defenses, you start to see where the ball should go on time or if it should go to the outlet.”
At 2-4, Jones senses the importance of straightening things out quickly.
“I think there’s an urgency and a sense of making sure we prepare as well as we possibly can so we can play as well as we possibly can,” he said.
The specter of the Murray-Jones matchup is interesting for Jones but certainly not all-consuming.
“My focus is on trying to help the team win the game,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest part. It’s about making sure I’m doing my part and being ready to play as well as I can. I think that’s the emphasis.”
Jones and Murray are at the forefront of a sweeping youth movement among NFL quarterbacks. Due in part to opportunity and to injury among veteran quarterbacks, more younger passers than ever are getting the chance to start.
There already have been 77 games featuring at least one starting quarterback 26 or younger, the most at this point in NFL history.
There have been 102 games started by quarterbacks 26 or younger — the most since at least the 1970 AFL-NFL merger — and 54 games started and won by quarterbacks 26 or under, the most since at least 1970.
Jones and Murray now carry the torch for the younger generation of quarterbacks, and they now begin a rivalry that could last the next decade and possibly longer.
Or so they hope.
As do the teams that have staked their futures on them.