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How Daniel Jones can develop into the quarterback the Giants think he is

Jones was widely considered a reach, but he can still end up a solid quarterback in the NFL.

The initial reactions to the New York Giants spending the sixth-overall pick on Duke quarterback Daniel Jones have not been kind. It was a ridiculed decision that left people confused, and it’s pretty easy to see why. He didn’t exactly light up his competition at Duke, finishing as one of the least productive quarterback prospects in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Giants general manager David Gettleman devoted a few days after the draft publicly defending the pick — and he admitted he fell in love with Jones after three drives of the Senior Bowl game, which is an extremely watered-down football game.

We might not see Jones play regular-season football for a while. Eli Manning is still the starter and Gettleman mentioned the possibility of sitting Jones for three years.

Even if his potential to be an NFL franchise quarterback is questionable, Jones does have some redeeming qualities that give him a chance to become the future of the Giants.

Here’s how Jones can be a productive quarterback in the NFL.

Make sure the quick game and three-step drops are a big part of the offense

One strength of Jones’ game is his ability to work efficiently in the short area of the field. He doesn’t really have an arm that’s going to threaten NFL defenses vertically, so quick passes where Jones can immediately get the ball out of his hand need to be a staple of the offense.

Here’s an example from Duke’s game against Clemson. It’s not a high-difficulty throw, but Jones does a nice job of delivering the ball as the tight end is turning around on the stick route.

The Giants should also be installing quick play-action passes and run-pass options (RPOs) for Jones to run. Duke’s offense was loaded with play fakes that are designed to get the ball into the short area of the field.

This is a good example from Duke’s game against Northwestern. The linebackers bite on the play fake, which gives the receiver a chance to sneak behind a linebacker as he drops back into coverage.

Jones puts the throw in the right spot for the receiver to catch it and pick up yards after the catch. Imagine these yards-after-catch opportunities with a receiver like Odell Beckham Jr. (not that Jones will get that chance).

Jones also performs pretty well on quick-hitting intermediate throws. Northwestern did him a bit of a service by not covering the receiver he ends up throwing to, but the process is good here.

Northwestern sends five rushers, Jones identifies the open receiver, and he throws a perfect pass that again allows his receiver to pick up yards after the catch. It’s a layup of a throw, but making defenses pay when they aren’t schematically sound is what good quarterbacks do.

The quick game and short drops in the pocket need to be a key part of the Giants’ gameplan when Jones sees the field, but that can’t be the only component of their passing game. They’ll need to open up the field with deep and intermediate shots, which Jones is capable of completing — he just didn’t always get help with those plays at Duke

Jones is capable of dropping dimes and those needs to be reeled in

Part of the reason why Jones didn’t have overwhelming stats at Duke is because his teammates struggled to hold onto the ball at times. There were instances in which Jones threw a dart down the field and his teammates couldn’t bring the ball in.

This dropped pass against Virginia Tech was a killer. On second-and-11 and under heavy pressure, Jones launched a phenomenal downfield pass to his receiver running a post route.

The ball landed right in the receiver’s hands, but he didn’t come down with it for a catch. The receiver even ran a pretty good route on the play, establishing inside leverage deep down the field — but it didn’t matter.

Here’s another example, this time in the game against Clemson. After the play fake, Jones throws a laser to his receiver which should have set him up for yards after the catch.

Unfortunately for Jones and the receiver, the pass was dropped. This was a damn good throw by Jones considering where the cornerback was positioned — if the ball was even a little bit inside, the pass could have been intercepted.

Moving on from Duke’s receivers to weapons like Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram will alleviate some of these concerns — whether Jones can get onto the field this year or not.

Outside of some drop issues with his teammates, Jones has one big area he needs to clean up as he enters the NFL.

Jones needs to speed up his decision-making

This isn’t a groundbreaking statement, but the game just moves faster in the NFL than in college football. In order to avoid some backbreaking interceptions in the NFL, Jones needs to speed up his decision-making on plays where he has to do more than a quick drop in the pocket.

This throw against Virginia Tech is a perfect example of this. Jones wants to throw to his receiver wide open toward the left sideline. Jones is staring him down all the way, but for some reason he’s incredibly hesitant to actually throw the ball to him.

By the time Jones does, he’s gives the cornerback a chance to make a play on the ball and almost intercept it. This is a pick-six in the NFL.

Quarterbacks with cannons for arms can get away with being late on these throws because they have the velocity to beat defensive backs to the sideline — Jones doesn’t have that level of arm. He has the arm strength if he threw the ball a couple seconds earlier, but he waited and almost gifted Virginia Tech six points.

If you’re wondering what a quarterback coach would have to say about that specific throw, here’s Seth Galina’s take on the play.

Jones may not have the rocket arm needed to hit that late throw, but he does have some mobility that the Giants can take advantage of with their playcalling.

New York should Jones opportunities to make plays with his legs

Jones can create some offense when he’s tasked with carrying the ball. He doesn’t have outrageous athleticism like Lamar Jackson, but he’s not a statue in the pocket either.

Jones ran a respectable 4.81-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine this year. That put him in the 52nd percentile among all quarterbacks who have run the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, according to MockDraftable.

Running the ball with Jones wasn’t a big part of Duke’s offense, but he’s a capable enough runner that using him on designed runs weren’t a waste of plays.

This draw play against Pittsburgh shows that he can run the ball if needed. He has just enough burst to accelerate away from the linebacker chasing him from behind and grabs the first down.

One piece of advice for Jones: try not to take those big hits in the NFL.

Quarterback draws and other option plays will give Jones a chance to create yards while he grows accustomed to throwing against NFL defenses.

In theory, quick passes, better receivers, and a sprinkle of rushing plays should help Jones have more success in the NFL than he did in college. However, if he doesn’t become the quarterback that the Giants drafted him to be, he might be able to thrive at another position.

If all else fails, Daniel Jones has a bright future as a punter

Jones flashed some serious potential as a punter last year! Check out this flawless pooch punt he executed against Miami last year.

It rolled out of bounds at the two-yard line — that’s pretty damn impressive.

His background as a quarterback would really open up the fake punt packages as well. Here’s a fake pooch punt against Clemson that resulted in a throw for a first down.

How’s that for positional versatility?

Statistically, the odds are stacked against Jones. Not many quarterbacks with his lack of production in college become successful quarterbacks in the NFL. But he does some traits that could turn him into a worthy successor to Eli Manning.

It’s going to take some time, but if the Giants can tailor an offense that fits Jones’ strengths as a passer and a runner, he just might be worth the top-10 pick they used on him.