For all the angst felt by Giants fans upon hearing Roger Goodell announce Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, Gil Brandt would like to offer some reassurance.
“I think this guy is just scratching the surface,” said Brandt, the former Cowboys personnel director who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year. “He has everything you need to be a successful quarterback. Five years from now, people will say the Giants got a steal.”
How good will Jones, who will make his first start on Sunday against the Bucs, turn out to be?
“I think he’s just a clone of a Manning,” Brandt said, referring to both Peyton and Eli Manning. “It’s hard for me to say that, because Peyton has had so much success. But I think they’re the same, except that this guy [Jones] can run faster than Peyton.”
Feeling any better?
Jones begins his NFL journey much sooner than expected, especially after Giants president and co-owner John Mara said last month that he hoped the rookie would never see the field this year in anticipation of a big season from Eli Manning.
But maybe it shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise; after all, Jones is one of several young quarterbacks playing in a league that not too long ago resisted the idea of going with neophyte passers.
There has been a sea change in thinking. The transition to younger quarterbacks now occurs at warp speed, compared to a bygone era when teams often trusted only veterans to carry the offense and made rookies carry a clipboard.
“There’s nothing that can replace experience on the field,” former Giants quarterback Phil Simms said. “You can read everything — body language, coverage. You get into the flow of a game. It’s very important to indoctrinate [young quarterbacks] into the team.”
How prevalent are young quarterbacks in today’s game? Consider that 20 under the age of 26 will be starters in Week 3 games. That’s the most for one weekend in the 100-year history of the league.
The early part of the season has offered several reminders about the youth movement:
* Manning was benched after the Giants lost two straight and the offense totaled just 31 points.
* Manning’s Class of 2004 counterpart, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, suffered an elbow injury that knocked him out for the season. He has been replaced by 24-year-old Mason Rudolph, a 2018 third-round pick.
* Drew Brees, 40, suffered a torn thumb ligament against the Rams and had surgery that will keep him out at least six weeks and possibly imperil the team’s playoff hopes.
* Andrew Luck retired last month at the age of 29, citing numerous injuries. Third-year quarterback Jacoby Brissett now is the starter.
* Jacksonville signed Nick Foles to an $88 million contract, but he suffered a broken clavicle in the opener and is out indefinitely. He has been replaced by rookie sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew.
QBs MORE PREPARED NOW
Even without the injuries and Manning’s benching, the trend toward going with younger quarterbacks has accelerated dramatically in recent seasons. At the heart of the youth movement: the combination of better development of quarterbacks at the high school and college levels, a willingness by teams to use younger players to take advantage of their relatively inexpensive salary cap costs, and increased scrutiny from fans and media that has created enormous pressure to succeed and reduced the level of patience among many teams.
“I think we expect the players that we put in the game to perform well,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “We try not to make excuses for the fact that players are young. If they’re in there, we expect them to play. I think that goes for quarterbacks as well.”
Former 49ers and Lions coach Steve Mariucci, now an NFL Network analyst, said finding the answer at quarterback is the biggest challenge for any team.
“There are 7.3 billion people walking on the face of the Earth,” he said, “and only 20 of them are franchise quarterbacks. They’re hard to find. In some ways, they’re an endangered species.”
But Mariucci, who was highly regarded for his deft handling of quarterbacks, including Packers Hall of Famer Brett Favre, believes that better training techniques for players before they get to the NFL have created an atmosphere conducive to successful quarterback development.
“When Favre and those guys were coming up, he didn’t go to a quarterback camp and a quarterback guru didn’t train him in the offseason,” Mariucci said. “Now they’re being groomed from youth football on up. They’re getting training, coaching, film work, Elite 11 camps with competition to be better and to shine and to be exposed to college recruiters.”
Simms said the level of training for young quarterbacks can’t be understated.
“I expect [young] quarterbacks to do well,” he said. “They’re trained better, they have more at their disposal and it’s easier now. The coaches are smarter, they give them more options, they’re not holding the ball for five seconds. It’s changed.”
Former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky, now an ESPN analyst, agrees that the chances for success with today’s quarterbacks are exponentially higher than in the past.
“When I went to college and then the NFL [in 2005], there were a lot of things about the mechanics, protections and defenses that I didn’t have any clue about,” he said. “These kids now are learning this for five, six, seven years before they go to college, no less the NFL. They’re much more able to handle it X’s-and-O’s-wise.”
But Orlovsky believes there may be a downside to the intensive training.
“I actually think, over the next 10 years, we’re going to see less good quarterbacks, because as good as this private coaching is, it also takes away from the organic growth of football players,” Orlovsky said. “There aren’t going to be a lot of kids 10, 12 years old throwing the football around — players like an Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, where these kids just kind of grew up playing and didn’t have the structure. I think we’re going to have plenty of good quarterbacks but less great, special ‘wow’ quarterbacks.”
RULE CHANGES WERE KEY
The NFL’s decades-long efforts to protect quarterbacks and promote increased scoring also have made it easier for today’s quarterbacks — especially younger ones — to succeed.
Brandt recalled the first week of the 1977 season serving as a major turning point.
“There were five teams that didn’t score a point,” he said. “We had two teams that scored three points, one team that scored six points and one team that scored seven points.”
The dearth of points, not only in that opening week but through much of the season and in previous years, prompted NFL owners to make two key rule changes in 1978. The first prohibited defensive players from making contact with receivers beyond five yards from the line of scrimmage; previously, defenders could hit receivers anywhere on the field before the ball was thrown. The second allowed offensive linemen to extend their arms and open their hands while pass blocking.
It was the start of a series of rule changes implemented over the years to make it easier for the passing game to succeed and to protect quarterbacks from injury.
Mariucci believes the future is bright at the position.
“We’re going to see in the next year or two or three these great veteran quarterbacks, many of whom will end up in the Hall of Fame, ride off into the sunset, whether that’s Eli or Roethlisberger or Brees or [Tom] Brady,” he said. “That generation of quarterbacks will be in our rearview mirror at some point and there needs to be a new generation of quarterbacks. I think we’re in good shape.”