In Jones the Giants Trust, Even if Few Others Do
Duke’s football coach, David Cutcliffe, was in the green room Thursday night with Daniel Jones when the young quarterback received a phone call from the Giants. The team was making the surprise pick of the N.F.L. draft by selecting Jones No. 6 over all.
Cutcliffe said Jones had grown emotional and even had tears in his eyes. It was coincidental because that was similar to the likely reaction from many emotional Giants fans, who cried and moaned that their team had made a colossal mistake by drafting Jones so high, even though many had never seen Jones play a down.
To them, Jones is Dave Brown, 2.0. Brown was the former Duke quarterback the Giants chose first over all in the 1992 supplemental draft. He went on to post a 26-34 record in four mostly playoff-free seasons as their starter.
But the fans’ visceral negative reaction to Jones only heightened the importance of Cutcliffe’s advice to him moments after the player became property of the Giants.
“There will always be naysayers,” Cutcliffe said on the Blue Devil Network, “and I told him, ‘Get used to that — you’re headed to New York.’”
Through no fault of his own, Jones is now the subject of intense scrutiny in New York because so few fans had heard of him or thought he would be selected so early. That he will arrive as the team navigates the looming end of the 38-year-old Eli Manning’s long tenure will only add to the pressure.
At Duke, Jones threw 52 touchdown passes and 29 interceptions but never surpassed 2,900 yards passing in a season at a time when two dozen quarterbacks a year throw for more than 3,000.
And yet, with Manning in his twilight, Dave Gettleman, the Giants general manager, wanted Jones so badly that he might have risked his career by selecting him when he did.
The fates of the two men are now intertwined. Gettleman heard that people had lampooned the pick on social media and that fans had booed Jones’s selection at a watch party at MetLife Stadium. Some had hoped that Gettleman would use the pick to add an elite pass rusher, like Josh Allen from Kentucky, who was taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars immediately after Jones.
Others felt that if the Giants were ready to move on from Manning, who has struggled at quarterback in recent seasons, then they should have sought his replacement last year, when passers like Sam Darnold, Josh Allen (a different one) and Josh Rosen were available, or waited until next year, when several more highly rated quarterbacks are expected to be in the draft. To them, the Jones pick seemed to land in the middle of nowhere.
Asked what he would tell the legion of frustrated fans, Gettleman said confidently, “In time, you’ll be very pleased.”
Cutcliffe was more direct, uttering the words all football fans hold most dear: Jones, he declared, would ultimately give the fans a “Super Bowl opportunity,” just as Manning has done twice.
Indeed, on draft night, everything seems possible, but Zac Roper, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Duke who was a graduate assistant at Mississippi during Manning’s tenure there, said the comparisons between Jones and Manning were “very fair.” Jones has the same football knowledge, Roper said. He sees the field as well as Manning, has “superb” accuracy and is, at least according to Roper, every bit as durable as Manning.
“His toughness is through the roof,” Roper said of Jones. “The fans will love it. He will stand in the heat of the pocket until the last possible moment, make the throw, take the shot and then get up and act like nothing happened.”
Originally a walk-on at Duke, Jones caught the eye of the coaching staff by running the scout team with a level of command that impressed the defensive coaches. After redshirting for a year, he had his breakout game in September 2016 at Notre Dame. In a back-and-forth game, Jones kept his cool and led the Blue Devils to a 38-35 win. He passed for 290 yards and three touchdowns, including a 64-yard pass that evened the score in the fourth quarter.
Jones comes from a remarkably athletic family, with three siblings who are all Division I-caliber athletes. His older sister, Becca, played field hockey for four years at Davidson, just as her mother had, and his younger brother, Bates, is on the men’s basketball team at Davidson.
“You always look at the genes when you are recruiting,” said Davidson’s Bob McKillop, who coached the N.B.A. star Stephen Curry in college. “The apple does not fall far from the tree, and the kids have those same qualities.”
Daniel’s younger sister, Ruthie, has committed to play soccer at Duke, around the same time that her brother’s N.F.L. career will begin as Manning’s backup. But that is expected to be only a temporary situation.
On Thursday, after Gettleman said Manning would remain the starter as long as he earns it, someone asked if that meant the Giants would consider giving Manning a contract extension. Gettleman dismissed the questions as hypothetical, but there was another way to answer it.
If the Giants feel the need to give Manning an extension to stay on as the starter, Gettleman, who has bet big on Jones, most likely won’t be around to give it to him.