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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Eli Manning was watching television in mid-June when he witnessed a savage moment that prompted a mixture of empathy and amusement in the 38-year-old veteran.
On Manning’s television was a clip of the man the New York Giants had just drafted to eventually replace him, first-round quarterback Daniel Jones, attending a baseball game at Yankee Stadium. The youngster was greeted with so many boos by the hometown crowd that Manning, who is entering his 16th season in New York, could do only one thing:
“I laughed,” Manning told Yahoo Sports this week. “I just shake my head and laugh. I hate that he has to deal with that … and I think I’d be mad if I didn’t think he can handle it.”
He better be able to. The Giants’ decision to take Jones with the sixth pick of the 2019 NFL draft — ahead of touted Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen and prolific Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins — drew widespread criticism from near (like Nashville, the site of the draft) and far (like in the Bronx, at Yankee Stadium). None of it escaped Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who has joked since then that every Giants fan “east of the [bleeping] Dead Sea booed the pick.”
Here’s what also didn’t escape Gettleman and the Giants: the way Jones, 22, has handled it all.
Start with the Yankee Stadium booing. In real-time, Jones let out an easy chuckle. Why? The boos didn’t sound that bad at the moment, Jones told Yahoo Sports this week. Besides, there were surely plenty of Jets fans there. It wasn’t until after Jones left the game and he checked his phone that people started telling him about it.
But the biggest, and most important, reason Jones was able to laugh off that moment is an unshakable confidence in himself, which was a primary reason Gettleman fell in love with the 6-foot-5, 221-pounder in the first place.
“I think it’s from being a little guy [who was] lucky to grow up with parents who supported me and taught me a lot of different things,” Jones said. “My parents always encouraged us to be ourselves … and be confident in that.”
And while Jones loves football, he says he derives his self-confidence from things beyond on-field performance, starting with how he treats people.
“[Like] being a good teammate in a football setting, but maybe in a bigger sense, just being a good friend and someone who genuinely cares about people,” Jones said. “People can feel that. I think that’s important.”
And don’t forget the thing Gettleman loves the most in Jones — grit.
“Toughness, to me, that’s important too,” Jones said. “The ability to withstand adversity, withstand whatever it is on the field, off the field, is important. Those are two big things that kind of encompass a lot of different things.”
For all the criticism that was heaped upon Jones and the Giants for the selection, Jones’ toughness is not up for debate. As a former walk-on who became a starter at Duke for 3½ years, Jones was consistently asked to make the most of less-than-ideal circumstances. He regularly took on-field beatings against more talented teams — members of the Giants will tell you the 2018 Clemson tape is especially brutal — and his receivers not only consistently struggled to get open, but also dropped a staggering 38 passes in 2018.
Jones still completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,251 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions, all while showing some athleticism (98 rushes for 325 yards and two touchdowns), an ability to work through progressions quickly, and adequate arm strength and accuracy.
And the fact Jones never threw one of his teammates under the bus also resonated with the Giants as a positive, especially in a city like New York, where one errant quote can turn into a media firestorm in a matter of minutes.
Gettleman saw a player with a makeup that reminds him of the legendarily tough Jim Kelly. So for taking him, the Giants will not apologize, which explains why they’re done trying to convince the world that Jones was the right pick.
“I’m not trying to sell the world on Daniel Jones,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur told Yahoo Sports. “I think we’re trying to get him ready to play football so he can go out and help us win football games … but he is very much about his business. He’s extremely tough. There’s a grittiness to him that I admire, and I think he can be a good leader.”
Shurmur says Jones is exceeding expectations (even though Manning is locked in as the starter), and the early returns on Jones’ leadership ability from elsewhere have been positive. Manning told Yahoo Sports that Jones asks good questions, and Jones said that Manning has been “awesome” to him, even giving him tips on how to handle the media.
Jones had an opportunity to show that inner-confidence during the Giants’ first full-squad training camp practice, which was open to the public Thursday. Jones opened the blitz period 0-for-6 as the typically jeer-happy group of fans showed restraint, even when a pass wobbled out of bounds and one that was nearly picked off. Perhaps the restraint was a sign of how badly Giants fans want it to work, especially considering they didn’t spare other players. At one point, one fan — a kid — picked on highly paid left tackle Nate Solder, yelling, “Come on, Nate Solder! This is what you’re here for!” And when receiver Bennie Fowler dropped a wide-open deep ball on a beautiful pass from Jones — in stride, perfectly in front of the wideout — the crowd unleashed a hellacious set of boos.
Still, Jones rallied to complete his next four passes and six of his final 10, all without seemingly changing his stride. It was a rally that likely didn’t surprise Manning, who has seen nothing but the cool side of Jones since April and doesn’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.
“He’s got a calm demeanor — nothing seems to rattle him,” Manning said. “I think he just has the mindset of, ‘Hey, I’m gonna turn those [boos] into cheers,’ and that’s kind of the mindset you have to have. You laugh it off and smile and work your tail off and I think he’s done a good job of that, coming in working and talking when he needs to talk and earning the respect [of teammates].”
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