The 2018 New York Giants were a mess. After committing the cardinal sin of drafting a running back second overall while quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson were still available, Big Blue finished last in the NFC East at 5-11 and had little optimism for the immediate future. The 2019 NFL Draft was their chance to completely overhaul the roster. After all, they had two first-round picks thanks to the trade that sent star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns.
Two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Eli Manning was entering what would be his final NFL season and the Giants needed to find a replacement soon. The free agent market didn’t offer much of a solution, as the only viable quarterback options were Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Nick Foles, all of whom would, at best, be considered stopgaps for a younger quarterback.
The draft was their best option for finding their next franchise quarterback, though the pickings were slim. Reigning Heisman winner Kyler Murray was all but a lock to go first overall to the Arizona Cardinals, and after him there was quite a drop-off in terms of prospect value. Duke’s Daniel Jones and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins were considered the only other first-round-caliber prospects at their position, but many cited that in a deeper class, they would be second-rounders, at best.
That made it all the more surprising when the Giants used the first of their two first-rounders on Jones with the sixth overall pick. Given the general consensus, most felt that Jones would have still been available when the Giants picked again at No. 17, which would have saved them some money based on the draft slot. For what it’s worth, they used that pick on Clemson nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, who just had a monster, breakout 2022 season.
Daniel Jones' Football Career
Despite having ideal size for the position at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Jones wasn’t overly impressive in college. He started out hot in his final season at Duke, earning a 92.0 passing grade against Army, but he steadily worsened with each subsequent start, bottoming out at 53.8 against Wake Forest to end the regular season. Overall, he posted a 78.2 passing grade for the year — not terrible, but not what you’d hope for out of the guy you just drafted sixth overall and are about to hand the keys to the franchise to.
Jones took over for Manning in Week 3 with a dramatic comeback win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that sparked a lot of optimism, but he never really took that next step with his play. He finished his rookie year with a 3-9 record as a starter, 3,027 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 65.1 passing grade.
There wasn’t a ton of improvement over the next two seasons, either, as Jones went 5-9 in 2020 with 2,943 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and what is still a career-high 74.4 passing grade. The 2021 season continued the trend of mediocrity, as he went 4-7 with 2,428 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions to go along with a 70.6 passing grade. It’s also worth mentioning that Jones missed time due to injury in all three of his NFL seasons heading into 2022.
One area Jones particularly excels in, surprisingly enough, is running the ball — at least, when he’s not getting attacked by the turf monster.
The last time we saw Daniel Jones and the Giants on Thursday Night Football… ????
Who do you have tonight between Washington and the Giants? pic.twitter.com/IZdOlqXcIc
— PFF (@PFF) September 16, 2021
Heading into 2022, Jones had exactly 1,000 career rushing yards, with his best season on the ground being 2020, when he ran for 423 yards and earned a 78.8 rushing grade, which ranked eighth among quarterbacks.
But that rushing success didn’t strengthen Jones’ hold on the Giants' starting job, as the Giants declined the fifth-year option on his expiring rookie contract.
This past season, a make-or-break year for Jones, turned out to be a big season for the Giants, as they went 9-7-1 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. In the wild-card round, they defeated the 13-4 Minnesota Vikings on the road for their first playoff victory since Super Bowl XLVI. Jones was particularly good, throwing for 301 yards and two scores en route to a 76.7 passing grade while adding another 78 yards on the ground. However, the season came to a disappointing end with a 38-7 shellacking at the hands of the division rival Philadelphia Eagles.
Yet, despite all of the Giants’ success in 2022, Jones was more of the same. Out of 24 quarterbacks to take at least half of their team’s offensive snaps, he ranked 16th in passing grade (70.0), his lowest number since his rookie year. Jones’ counting stats were also unimpressive, as he threw for a career-high 3,205 yards with just 15 touchdowns and five interceptions — meager numbers for someone who didn’t miss a single game due to injury (he was a healthy scratch in Week 18 against the Eagles while resting for the playoffs).
However, the most alarming number was his eight big-time throws. Only Matt Ryan threw fewer, with six on 73 fewer pass attempts (including playoffs). To put this number into perspective, Mac Jones and the New England Patriots’ passing attack was much-maligned throughout the season as being ineffective. Mac Jones still made 22 big-time throws, almost tripling Daniel Jones’ total on 92 fewer attempts.
Even Jones’ low interception total comes off as a bit fluky, as he had 21 turnover-worthy plays, tied with Justin Fields for the eighth most.
Jones was an effective runner, though. His 84.4 rushing grade ranked fifth among quarterbacks, and he ran for a career-high 708 yards and seven touchdowns in 2022.
In defense of Jones’ counting stats, his receivers didn’t do him any favors. His pass catchers dropped 7.8% of his passes, tied with Trevor Lawrence for fourth worst in the league. The Giants' receivers combined for a 68.4 receiving grade, the sixth worst in the league. Their highest-graded receiver was Isaiah Hodgins at 75.4, and he spent the first half of the season on the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad. The team’s leading receiver was Darius Slayton with 816 yards, yet he also dropped the most passes on the team (eight). In fact, Jones has never had a receiver post a season-long receiving grade of at least 80.0 in any of his four NFL seasons.
The Giants' Decision at QB
The 2023 offseason is critical for the Giants if they want to build on their big 2022 turnaround season. However, Jones’ impending free agency leaves them in limbo at the game’s most important position. Since his fifth-year option was declined, Jones needs a new contract if he’s going to stick around, unless the team decides to franchise tag him — and that seems unlikely given it’s expected to cost the Giants around $45 million to do so.
On the other hand, New York is also projected to have the third-most salary cap space heading into 2023 free agency, so they will have some financial flexibility. If they do manage to sign Jones to a more team-friendly deal, they will also need to surround him with better receivers. We’ve seen in the past what adding a top receiver can do for a young, struggling quarterback (see: Josh Allen, Tua Tagovailoa), although the Giants already tried this when they signed Kenny Golladay before last season, and he has yet to catch a touchdown from Jones.
Another option would be to let Jones walk and look for a new quarterback elsewhere. One potential trade target could be Derek Carr, who has seemingly taken his last snap with the Las Vegas Raiders. However, Carr could get expensive, as he has a cap hit of a little over $43 million in each of the next two years and is coming off a season in which he posted his worst passing grade (65.4) since his rookie campaign. Trey Lance could also be an option if the 49ers end up sticking with Brock Purdy as their long-term starter, though a trade package for Lance could get pricey given how much the 49ers paid to draft him.
As far as free agency is concerned, it’s a better selection of signal-callers than the 2019 group. Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Brady could all be potentially available as short-term options.
Then there’s the 2023 NFL Draft, but the Giants’ 2022 success has put them in a tough spot if they want to grab one of the top quarterback prospects. After losing in the divisional round, New York locked itself into the 26th pick. While this year's quarterback class is solid, the odds of one of the top prospects being around if the Giants stay put are slim.
As of this writing, Alabama’s Bryce Young is not expected to make it past the Texans at Pick No. 2, while Kentucky’s Will Levis and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are both expected to be top-10 picks. Florida’s Anthony Richardson is a wild card — some analysts see him as a potential top-10 pick, while others believe he'll fall out of the first round altogether. Even if Richardson does fall into the Giants’ lap at No. 25, he’s considered to be a very raw prospect who may not be ready to start right away.
If the Giants really want one of the top-tier talents in this class, they’re going to need to put together a massive trade package. As a reference for what this might cost them, in 2011 the Atlanta Falcons moved up from No. 27 to No. 6 in order to select Alabama receiver Julio Jones. This move cost the Falcons two first-rounders, a second-rounder and two fourth-rounders. This package would likely be the minimum that the Giants would need to give up for such a jump up the board.
Regardless of what the Giants decide to do with Daniel Jones, they will certainly be one of the more interesting teams to watch this coming offseason.