The boos rained down as the New York Giants selected Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the No. 6 overall selection in the 2019 NFL draft. Fans, empowered by their light domestic beers on famous Lower Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee, had meltdowns that my five-year-old would be embarrassed by.
Giants Nation was not happy. Daniel Jones?! No. 6 overall?! What was Dave Gettleman thinking?
It would only increase from there as Giants fans booed Jones when he threw the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. It filled the summer airwaves of local sports talk radio as Monday morning quarterbacks proclaimed what New York should have done.
And then Jones walked into the Giants' huddle following an inept first drive by Eli Manning and the starting offense (minus Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram) in the team's preseason opener against the New York Jets on Thursday.
Five passes and one touchdown later, fans should find themselves not questioning the decision to draft Jones but begging to see more of him.
What was so impressive about his performance? This is the preseason, after all, which has fooled more fans than Patriots coach Bill Belichick. It starts with the poise and accuracy he showed—the two most important traits for a quarterback, especially one making his first NFL appearance.
Jones' first throw was a quick one—from the shotgun, a one-step drop and a short pass to wide receiver Cody Latimer—but he performed well with the pocket collapsing and the Jets defense muddying the pocket. You could tell immediately that the game wasn't too big for him. The speed and pressure weren't getting to him.
Playing quarterback in New York means having thick skin. It's one reason the previous Jets regime liked Sam Darnold over the other quarterbacks in the loaded 2018 draft class. They needed someone who could withstand the pressure on and off the field. Jones has that same quality.
"We really thought at first that he was kind of aloof," said one NFL area scout who sat in on an interview of Jones predraft. "He was a little quiet and didn't ooze confidence, but you realize he's tough and smart. He's just not in your face with it."
That toughness and intelligence will serve Jones well if and when he takes the job from Manning.
How the Giants handle the quarterback situation from here is must-see. Manning completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes in 2018 but showed noticeable regression in arm strength and continues to be plagued by interceptions and turnovers. He'll also be without Odell Beckham Jr. now that the star receiver has been traded to the Cleveland Browns.
With Manning a short-term plan and the Giants roster not built to contend in 2019, an argument can be made that going to Jones now instead of letting Manning lose the job is the right play. Over the last decade of evaluating quarterbacks, there has been disagreement on when to play them—do you risk throwing a young passer to the wolves and let him learn on the job, or do you let him sit and develop? It's a case-by-case basis more often than not, but Jones left Duke as a redshirt junior with the body type, experience and intelligence to play now. He's not learning how to take snaps from under center or call a play in the huddle.
If nothing else, there should be more competition in the Giants' quarterback room. Jones should see more reps with the first-team offense, as well as in the preseason with the starters and against higher-quality players than the Jets' second-string defense Thursday night.
Jones' perfect 5-of-5 performance was a teaser, to be sure, but it offered enough hope that Gettleman, head coach Pat Shurmur and the coaching staff must work on getting him more reps as soon as possible.
It's too early to say Jones is the future of the Giants, but it's not too early to say he impressed enough in his NFL debut that we want to see more. Fans who booed him mercilessly in Nashville and at Yankee Stadium should have an extra kick in their step this morning while thinking about the prospect of a true franchise quarterback to replace Manning.