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The Giants have made it clear, many times, that they are committed to Daniel Jones as their franchise quarterback. They believe in his talent. They believe in his future. They are convinced he can lead them back into contention.
From the outside, though, it’s hard to see why. Jones struggled mightily during his second season, seemingly erasing much of the promise he showed early as a rookie the year before. While other young quarterbacks around the league have thrived, the Giants’ 23-year-old seemed to regress. He was, by almost every measure, one of the worst quarterbacks in the league.
That sets Jones up for what feels like a make-or-break season in 2021 and a strong test of the Giants’ faith. But even a great quarterback can’t do it all alone in the NFL. There are some things that need to happen – some things the Giants can do – to make sure Jones finally is in a position to succeed:
Saquon Barkley must be healthy, and play all 16 games
This gets forgotten sometimes in the evaluation of Jones from last season, but the Giants offense was built around Barkley, and he lasted a game and a half, touched the ball 25 times and contributed 94 yards. It took the Giants until Week 6 before they were able to finally sustain a rushing attack in his absence, and then it completely faded in December.
Also, the other Giants running backs had 52 catches for 338 yards. Barkley had 91 catches for 721 yards as a rookie, the last time he was healthy for 16 games.
“A healthy Saquon makes a big difference,” Gettleman said.
Indeed. Getting him back, fully healthy from a torn ACL, would be absolutely huge for Jones. Without Barkley, defenses teed off on him – and with a lot of success early (and late) due to the Giants’ young, struggling offensive line. With Barkley, defenses will have to adjust their strategy, reduce their pressure, and Jones will have a dynamic weapon with which to make them pay.
The offensive line has to be fixed, once and for all
This has been Job No. 1 for Gettleman since Day 1 and it remains his white whale. He’s convinced he’s built a young, talented line that is “getting there.” He’s not wrong. With players like left tackle Andrew Thomas, guards Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez, center Nick Gates and right tackle Matt Peart, the Giants have more young talent on the line than they’ve had since years before Gettleman arrived.
But it can’t be “getting there.” It has to be there. Yes, Gettleman said “Things take time,” but time’s up. A four-year rebuild is long enough, and Jones needs help now. By almost every measure, this line ranked as one of the worst in the NFL last season. It gave up 50 sacks, tied for second-worst in the league. And they just cut their best lineman, guard Kevin Zeitler, to clear some salary cap space, too
Jones, a mobile quarterback, was sacked 45 times in 14 games. Yes, injuries late in the season robbed him of his mobility and that mattered. But he was sacked 31 times in 11 games before he got hurt, too.
A young quarterback can’t operate like that. He needs time to throw, time to read the defenses, time to escape the pocket. The combination of no running game, no dangerous receiver out of the backfield and no time in the pocket was brutal. That can’t happen again.
They need to find a new No. 1 receiver
They don’t have one and haven’t had one since they traded Odell Beckham Jr. Let’s face it: Sterling Shepard isn’t it. He’s a good possession receiver who has averaged 10 yards per catch over the 22 games he’s played the last two seasons. He’s not an explosive player. And Darius Slayton had promise, but his 50-catch, 751-season last year sure put a damper on that.
They need a receiver who opposing defenses fear. Lucky for them, free agency and the draft are loaded with them. They almost certainly won’t be able to afford the top ones in free agency, like Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster or Will Fuller.
But with the 11th pick in the draft they are likely to be staring at one of the top three – LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase or more likely Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith. There’s even a fourth for those who consider Florida tight end Kyle Pitts a receiver, too.
If the Giants reach May and they haven’t added a top free agent receiver or used the 11th pick to grab one, it’s simply malpractice. A quarterback needs reliable, dangerous weapons. Jones has none.
Evan Engram needs to become what the Giants clearly think he is
In case Judge wasn’t clear, he really, really loves Engram. “I love Evan,” he said on Tuesday. “I have a ton of confidence in Evan. He’s fun to coach. The guys have fun playing with him. He gives everyone in the locker room a ton of confidence. ... He’s a guy that obviously we have to keep continuing to feature in the offense.”
That's fine. He’s got the size (6-3, 234) and speed to be a dangerous mismatch. And his 63 catches for 654 yards and a touchdown was good enough to get him a (questionable) Pro Bowl nod. But Giants fans can probably recite his groan-worthy drops in key spots, including a number on pinpoint passes that went right through his hands. His 63 catches came while being targeted 109 times – a success rate of just 57.8 percent.
And while dropped passes is a subjective stat, Engram is generally credited with anywhere from 8-to-12 drops. And it certainly felt like more.
Despite Judge’s love and his obvious talent, Engram just has to be more reliable. Just think of how many big, third-down passes went right through his hands, and how much that hurt the offense and Jones.
Jones needs to get better, too
The lack of reliable and explosive weapons, the disappearing run game and the terrible blocking aren’t excuses for Jones. Well, they are a little, but he can’t be absolved of blame, either. He shouldn’t even completely get a pass from the hamstring and ankle injuries that ruined his final month.
He simply has to be better. Good quarterbacks find a way to do more than 11 touchdowns and 2,943 yards in 14 games. He needs to develop a better feel for the pocket, learn when to just get rid of the ball, and stop missing open receivers – which he did far too often.
It may not be fair, given everything going on around him, but the standards are high. He’s not some project. He’s the sixth overall pick now entering his third year. He’s the guy the Giants have built their entire future around.
“He’s everything we want,” Gettleman said. “He’s got all the physical skills. And again, I say this all the time, the kid just finished his second year of NFL football. How many of us after two years at our new job were great?”
That point would be stronger if so many quarterbacks hadn’t been so much better in their second year. More to the point, almost all the best ones had shown significant improvement by Year 3. So, no matter what is happening around him, Jones has to start being that guy who can carry the offense. There should be no excuses anymore.
Otherwise, by Year 4 of the Daniel Jones Era, the Giants will have no choice but to begin looking for somebody else.