Daniel Jones is the chicken quesadilla of quarterback prospects.
If you order the chicken quesadilla when dining out, it typically means that you showed up for happy hour hungry and unsure about what you wanted. Few people ever actually crave a chicken quesadilla. For most of us, it's a safe default selection on any appetizer menu: non-threatening, adequately satisfying and unlikely to gross you out, but not exactly the highlight of your evening.
That's Jones, the former Duke quarterback who has been generating first-round buzz since late in the college season and is now being linked to several teams at the top of the draft board. Jones is the quarterback teams want when they don't know what they want in a quarterback.
Old-school NFL types really like Jones. He has recently met with the Broncos, Giants, Dolphins and Chargers and is scheduled to meet with the Redskins, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. That's four teams starving for a fresh quarterback but unlikely to try anything too hot 'n' spicy, plus the Chargers, who are in the futures market.
Meanwhile, Jones sparks the kind of nerd-rage among the draftnik counterculture that is usually reserved for ranch dressing, the second seasons of prestige television dramas and the chain restaurants on the state highway that serve lots of flavorless chicken quesadillas.
The love-hate dichotomy makes Jones an oddly controversial figure, in part because there is nothing controversial about him.
Jones is tall, white (unfortunately, race remains relevant when we discuss quarterback perceptions; see Dwayne Haskins' alleged scrambling ability for further evidence), strong-armed, reasonably athletic, fundamentally sound, mature and a pretty good decision-maker as college quarterbacks go.
The only thing wrong with him is that there's nothing spectacular about him. That makes Jones the ultimate "safe" quarterback prospect, which is where the road divides:
Old-school NFL types hear "safe" prospect and think, oh good, he'll show up for practice on time, throw spirals and not get me fired for selecting him.
Cool-kid draftniks hear "safe" and think, ugh, another mediocre quarterback who will get a bunch of chances because he "looks the part" and will max out as, at best, another Kirk Cousins or Andy Dalton.
Jones looks and sounds a lot like the young Dalton or Cousins. He makes all the throws he's supposed to make, runs a bit, rarely does something dumb with the football and spouts leadership cliches with a loud, clear voice.
Cousins and Dalton, by the NFL's standards, are successful starting quarterbacks. Both have thrown for tens of thousands of yards, led teams to the playoffs and signed lucrative extensions. The same coaches and general managers who prefer safe choices hear the names Cousins or Dalton and think, Hooray! Years of headache-free competence at quarterback.
Many fans also found Cousins and Dalton pretty exciting in their early years, before they plateaued as players just good enough to lose wild-card games. Draftnik tastemakers usually turn their noses up at that sort of quarterback in favor of herb-infused cocktail and craft-brewed IPA quarterbacks.
Buffalo's Tyree Jackson could blossom into an All-Pro given three or four years of intensive development. Boise State's Brett Rypien could become Drew Brees in a laboratory-perfect scheme and environment. Daniel Jones is for the less-discerning palette.
Jones' draft status illustrates the main difference between NFL insiders and outsiders. NFL insiders are risk-averse. For someone with no skin in the game, making a bold decree about a sleeper in a column or mock draft generates attention (which is currency in my profession) and is about as "risky" as playing nickel slots with someone else's money.
Risk-aversion, for better or worse, is one of the grand unifying forces of the NFL. Every coach and executive not affiliated with the Patriots dreads making a bad decision that forces all of the assistants to put their homes up for sale and pull their kids out of school.
Talk to any coach or coordinator about what they look for in a quarterback prospect, and they will say they want someone who operates within the system, avoids negative plays and takes care of the ball and is the same guy every day, win or lose. Few coaches are looking for eye-popping highlights. Some sound almost skeptical about eye-popping highlights.
The NFL is looking for college quarterbacks who throw six-yard checkdowns or toss it out of bounds in the red zone when nothing is open. It's listening for bland press conferences. College "system" quarterbacks are warmly welcomed as long as the system wasn't too collegiate: David Cutcliffe's coaching and structure were huge parts of Jones' success, but because Cutcliffe didn't run lots of options or "gimmicks," that's a feature, not a bug.
In short, the NFL is always looking for quarterbacks like Daniel Jones.
For all his limitations, Jones would provide a quick upgrade over the desiccating husks of Joe Flacco in Denver or Eli Manning in New York. He's better than the combination of Case Keenum, Colt McCoy and wishful thinking in Washington. He's as reasonable an option for the Dolphins as Drew Lock or Haskins, a viable quarterback of the future for the Chargers or Patriots to stash on the bench and a possible "push" quarterback behind Dalton or any 30-something veteran.
Teams have also gotten smarter about getting more out of flawed young quarterbacks in recent years, so drafting Jones doesn't consign a team to an era of wild-card disappointments. Mitchell Trubisky isn't exactly a favorite of quarterback connoisseurs, and it's not too difficult to spot his shortcomings on film. But the Bears built a smart offense and great defense around him, and now they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. (Although, come to think of it, the Bears were wild-card disappointments last year. But you get the idea.)
Sure, it's better to get a Patrick Mahomes, a Baker Mayfield, a Sam Darnold or a Kyler Murray than a Daniel Jones. It's also fun to pretend that the next Kurt Warner is out there waiting to be discovered by some draft fanatic watching YouTube prospect cutups, or that the smart move is to just tank for one to three years and wait until the perfect quarterback prospect appears. And all the cool kids can laugh at the hidebound scaredy-cat NFL's obsession with tall, safe, generic quarterbacks.
In reality, some of those super-sleepers the hipsters like can't throw into a stiff breeze, run for their lives at the first sign of trouble, aren't sure what all the squiggles in the playbook mean or mix their sizzling highlights with lots of drive-killing lowlights. That's why there always appear to be so many interesting prospects in every draft class but there are so few quality NFL backups: Most of the fun guys to write or talk about aren't that good.
In other words, sometimes your only choices are to eat the chicken quesadilla or go hungry. And you know what? The quesadilla turns out to be pretty darn good.
Jones is pretty good, too. Like it or not, most first-round quarterbacks don't look like Mahomes or Mayfield. They look like Jones. And smart teams snatch them up, because they don't want to get stuck nibbling at the leftovers.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter:@MikeTanier.
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