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NFL Draft

Analyzing What Daniel Jones Does And Doesn’t Do Well

  • The Draft Network
  • September 17, 2020
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The first thing to understand is who New York Giants starting quarterback Daniel Jones is as a passer. When Jones came out, I wrote in the 2019 Contextualized Quarterbacking of his strengths:

“Jones is at his best facilitating in the quick game and is fearless in the pocket. It’s inspiring when it’s not leading to haphazard, turnover-worthy throws. I appreciate his ability to manipulate his arm angles, throw with zip, and extend plays. If Jones can continue building on an improving deep ball, he has a nice upside profile.”

I didn’t think Jones was a good candidate to start in Year 1, however—and of course, he did. Jones famously won his first two starts, eliciting all sorts of uproarious predictions from national and New York media, before losing his next 11 games as the Giants’ shaky roster and his roller-coaster play couldn’t traverse the choppy waters of an NFL season. However, what Jones was as a passer at Duke largely translated to the league even as he took a step up in competition. Coming into Year 2, I wrote this of Jones’ game:

“Jones won as a passer much as he won as a passer at Duke. He threw against pre-snap leverage with a great understanding of where defenses were going to give him space. He has a zippy arm from adjusted platforms and gelled nicely with former coach Pat Shurmur's heavy underneath approach on offense and figures to continue to work nicely with newly minted Jason Garrett's traditional West Coast spacing concepts.”

We got our first look at that Giants offense in Week 1 against the Steelers, and Jones delivered: he truly is one of the top quick game passers in the league already, and has a budding deep ball that adds a critical aspect to his game. Many are enamored with Gardner Minshew in his second season as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback for his accuracy underneath and spry decision-making—Jones has the same traits. Others still see a strong future for Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins for his mental processing pre-snap—Jones is arguably better here. The time has long passed for many who had Jones low coming out of Duke—of which I was one—to acknowledge that he’s delivering on his controversial draft capital thus far.

Of course, the elephant in the room is the interceptions, the fumbles, and the poor pocket management behind a bad offensive line. Jones may do more for his offense than Haskins or Minshew, but he also makes far more mistakes than both, which puts his team as a whole at a greater disadvantage. Jones made one such mistake on Monday night, when his flailing prayer of a goal line passing attempt fell interceptable to about half of the Steelers defense.

This is a wildly boneheaded decision. No NFL quarterback should even come near this choice, no matter how young or talented he is. Jones only had 12 throwaways last year on 473 passing dropbacks—that rate of 39.4 dropbacks/throwaway is the second-biggest of all young QBs charted for Contextualized Quarterbacking this year—only Mitchell Trubisky was worse. This number, when considered with Jones’ exorbitantly high sack rate (17% of all pressured dropbacks) and atrociously high fumble count (18 last year!), illustrate a quarterback who does not know how to mitigate risk and live for the next down.

Unfortunately, we do not get to separate Jones the passer from Jones the player, but what we can do is dispel a common narrative about Jones given his poor plays. Jones was blitzed at a higher rate than almost any other quarterback in Contextualized Quarterbacking, seeing six or more rushers on 6.4% of his dropbacks—that’s a significant number. But on these downs, he actually was a quality passer. He was a top-three passer in terms of his Ball Placement score, had an aggressive depth of target (12.2 yards), and was middle of the pack in terms of interceptable balls. In spread sets, Jones was able to ID where blitzes were coming from, and was willing to test downfield man coverage against it. As I said of his Duke film: fearless in the pocket.

Blitzing Jones is actually not the best idea—he’s all too willing to throw into the teeth of it, and can make you pay accordingly. The Steelers blitzed Jones at a wild rate in Week 1 (though Next Gen Stats quantifies blitzes differently than I do), and while they got interceptions out of him on that blitz, he really stayed generally effective as a passer—his CPOE was only -1.6% below expectation.

It’s not great play, but it’s fine. What really hurts Jones is pressuring him, possibly with but ideally without the blitz. Here, you have an extra player in underneath zones to punish Jones’ bad mistakes and take away his first read, on which he’s so reliant. Jones’ interceptable rate jumps into the top 10 of the CQ when pressured, and his ball placement falls out of it—that which was strong against six-plus rushers gets weaker.

It’s no radical conclusion that pressure hurts quarterbacks; it’s more so an acknowledgement that Jones doesn’t freeze when he’s blitzed. This is typically where rookie quarterbacks really flounder, but Jones kept his head above water there and will do so again in Year 2. His offensive line’s weakness, as well as his unwillingness to throw away or reset his throwing platform to pressure, will continue to spill bad plays into his game and create high-leverage blunders like the Steelers play. But with a moderately better offensive line, either this year or next, Jones should immediately take a jump as a passer, as teams look to blitz him to put him back under the gun, and he makes them pay accordingly.

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