EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It’s halfway through his rookie season and already Daniel Jones is growing up quickly. That is the result of being thrown into the lion’s den almost immediately for a bad team.
The 22-year-old New York Giants quarterback is now six games into his NFL career and it’s as if he has been there forever. There has been a magical comeback, some “wow” throws, too many turnovers and a steady mix of ups-and-downs.
Still, Jones’ early progress report at the midway point of the season is overwhelmingly positive.
“He has definitely lived up to the sixth pick of the draft,” former Giants quarterback and CBS analyst Phil Simms said in a phone interview with ESPN. “I think everyone agrees with that. I don’t hear any dissension from all the people that I’m around in business, work with, behind the scenes. In fact, I hear the opposite. ‘Wow, OK, he looks like the really stable, productive quarterback that is going to stand the test of time too.’ I surely don’t look at him and go, ‘He’s having a good streak here.’ I see him as very capable.”
In Jones’ most recent game, he threw for 322 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He became the second rookie in history (along with Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota) to post those numbers in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Still, the strong performance included rookie moments and mistakes. Jones had a sloppy backward pass in the first quarter that was ruled a fumble and returned for a touchdown.
It all seems par for the course at the moment. He is showcasing his talent while simultaneously taking his lumps. But even the mishaps at this point are beneficial. They serve as valuable learning experiences.
For example, Jones’ first game action came against the Cowboys in the season opener. He tried to run late in the game, and instead of stepping out of bounds, he took a big hit from linebacker Leighton Vander Esch that forced a fumble.
Since then, Jones has been quick to slide or step out of bounds to avoid taking unnecessary hits. While his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame might have allowed him to overpower certain players in college, the NFL is different.
This is the maturation process in progress. The Giants, who have been quick to pat themselves on the back for the pick, are ecstatic publicly and behind closed doors. They believe Jones has a chance to be a star. It starts with the way he handles his business.
“There’s areas in each game where he has shown improvement just playing quarterback,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “Just focused on [Sunday], I think we had the play where he gets hit, the ball goes backwards and it becomes a fumble, but he stays in the moment and he just keeps playing. I keep saying this each week, but he’s tough and he’s resilient and he competes, and he fights and he tries to do everything right.
“There’s plenty of production, things he did in terms of getting us in the right protection. There were some run checks he executed properly. I think he made some nice throws, he scrambled around, a couple of zone reads. The important thing for him is to continue to put more good plays on tape, continue to get the ball off on time and try to eliminate the mistakes that can wrongly affect the game.”
Jones, with 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, is on pace for 23 TD passes and 28 turnovers. There is undoubtedly room for major improvements. Jones has talked specifically about ball security and decision-making. On Monday, Shurmur mentioned timing, accuracy and decision-making.
Arm strength was the main public critique of Jones coming out of Duke, a notion the Giants correctly rejected. He didn’t show more than an average arm from inside the stadium during his combine workout. And Simms didn’t see consistent velocity on his passes while watching his college tape.
It hasn’t been a problem in the NFL. If anything, Jones’ arm strength has been a pleasant surprise. He fired a strike from the left hash mark off-balance Sunday in Detroit to the far sideline for a completion.
“When he wants to turn it on, he turns it on,” said Simms, a trend he noticed from his college tape as well. “And I’ve seen that this season.”
Simms has been most impressed with the way Jones reads defenses and moves through his progressions. Those skills are rare for a young quarterback, but they’re likely a product of what Simms described as playing pro football at Duke. Jones was playing in an NFL system, taking hits, under constant pressure, going through his progressions and being forced to throw into tight windows. That prepared him for making the right reads at the next level.
Jones’ teammates have been equally impressed, even if they have had to live with the rookie mistakes. They see a quarterback who isn’t perfect but is becoming more comfortable and progressing. Even the way Jones interacts with them has changed in the six weeks since he’s been named the starter ahead of Eli Manning.
“He’s being more vocal. He’s communicating with receivers. He’s pushing the offensive line. His energy driving down the field and trying to finish drives is going up,” tight end Evan Engram said of Jones. “He’s just coming out of his shell. … It’s noticeable and contagious. It’s something that he’s going to grow into.”
Veteran wide receiver Golden Tate mentioned after Sunday’s loss that Jones is texting with his receivers at night or talking to them constantly in between plays at practice to try to get on the same page. Receiver Bennie Fowler said Jones has taken receivers out to dinner to fortify those relationships.
It’s necessary. They all know the kinks aren’t going to be worked out overnight.
“I think that is important,” Tate said. “I think we’re doing a better job. I don’t think we have it figured out. We have to keep working to get this thing right.”
That’s the thing with Jones. He’s always working to make it right. And that is why the Giants and those watching Jones regularly — like Simms — seem so confident he is trending in the direction.