Mark Schofield’s RSP NFL Lens QB Daniel Jones (Giants): Shaping the Clay

RSP contributor Mark Schofield shows how the New York Giants have successfully paired its scheme with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and what lies ahead.

From his experience through his traits, [Daniel] Jones looks to fit best in a quick game offense, such as Jon Gruden’s West Coast system…An athletic quarterback who works best on quick game concepts, and who can show great handling of pockets at times with his footwork and processing speed on favorable route designs. Jones has the tools and the background to succeed, but his landing spot might be more critical than for other passers in this class. 

These were some of my concluding thoughts about Daniel Jones last draft season.

Like many, I was very skeptical of the idea that Jones could be the first quarterback off the board or a Top 10 selection. Like many, I greeted the news that Jones was the sixth overall selection with some criticism for the New York Giants.

Tasked with analyzing the pick in the moments after it was made, here is what I put together for Big Blue View. Paying homage to George R.R. Martin I referenced the idea of Targaryen madness and this quote: “Madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.”

If we viewed the Jones selection as perhaps a flip of that proverbial coin—that could land on either madness or greatness—my case for greatness was filled with schematic hope. As I stated that night: 

Furthermore, looking at the Giants’ offense as currently constructed, they seem to be building a corps of receivers who will be used in the short passing game. Slot receiver types such as Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate who can rely on quickness in the short area as well as change of direction ability. That lends itself to a West Coast kind of attack, one that Jones is ideally suited to run.

If the plan is to build that kind of offense for Jones to run, than this could indeed be the kind of schematic fit that the Duke product would need to thrive in the NFL. In the scouting profile piece on Jones, I wrote that “his landing spot might be more critical than for other passers in this class. The team that drafts him will need to have a solid developmental plan in place for him.” Landing in New York, even with my hesitations and fears with him as a prospect, could be the best fit for him.

Yes, that was the “rose-colored glasses” view, as I termed it in the piece. Yes, the “schematic hope” sounds like a bit of a hedge. Also true. Yet the difficulty with evaluation generally, and quarterback evaluation, in particular, is that landing, scheme fit, and coaching play such a huge role in shaping the final product.

This is part of the reason why I and others in the “evaluation game” are always more concerned with the evaluation itself—and the scheme fit piece—than the rankings. People might remember the rankings, and might rip me and others for having someone QB1 instead of QB5 and vice versa, but I would much rather be right about the overall view of a player, that be right about where I ranked them.

So how does one arrive at a scheme fit portion of the evaluation?

Every evaluator has their own process, but for me, the film study paves the way. Seeing what route concepts are executed well—with a process over results approach—often leads you to the answer.

Yes, you are often at the mercy of the offensive system the player is tasked with running in college, but with enough study, you will get the full picture of what the player does well, and what he does not.

I can pinpoint with precision the moment I concluded that Jones was the best fit in a West Coast scheme. It was on this third down against the Virginia Cavaliers:

Duke runs a go/flat concept to the left side of the formation. Jones wants to throw the flat route to his slot receiver, but the cornerback traps this from the boundary, leaving the vertical route open along the sideline. This is great processing speed on a quick game concept. Jones picks up the trap on the slot receiver and immediately comes to the vertical route along the boundary. 

When I arrived down in Mobile for the Senior Bowl last January, whenever Jones’s film was discussed amongst the assembled media evaluators, this play inevitably came up within seconds. It makes sense because on this play you see Jones react after the snap to a rotation in the coverage, make the right read in response to the change in expectations he had pre-snap, and then exploit the coverage for a big play.

These are the plays that convinced me he was an ideal fit for a West Coast system.

But he needed a coach to see the same things.

Fourth-and-two, early in the first quarter in Week 4. Jones’s second NFL start. Below is the same go/flat (“Ohio”) concept:

The Washington defense shows Jones (No.8) a Cover 0 pressure scheme pre-snap, and the QB stays calm and works the concept, making a quick throw on the flat route to Sterling Shepard (#87) to move the sticks.

Here is another play from Jones that I loved, that spoke to his ability to work in a quick passing offense and adjust on the fly. Here the Blue Devils face a third and five in their own territory. They empty the backfield and put Jones in the shotgun, and run a Stick variant to a trips formation:

Jones wants to throw backside here, to the slot receiver on a curl route, because he expects the middle linebacker to open his hips to the three-receiver side of the formation. However, unexpectedly the MLB opens to the weak side of the offensive formation, jumping the backside curl route, due to a pressure package Virginia brings on the play. That forces Jones to change his read on the fly, and he comes to the curl route from the inside trips receiver.

Last week against the Minnesota Vikings Jones struggled at times, and throw a very poor interception late in the game. But he still showed signs of what he can be as a passer. Take this 1st and 10 play from midway through the second quarter. The Giants start a possession trailing 13-7 and have the football on their own 25-yard line. The offense lines up with Jones in the shotgun and uses 12 offensive personnel for this play, putting each tight end on a wing in a tight 2×2 formation. Minnesota keeps its base defense in the game, and they will drop into a Tampa 2 coverage in the secondary.

New York has a perfect route dialed up here to attack this coverage. They run a curls/spacing concept, giving each receiver a chance to find and exploit soft spots in the underneath coverage. The receiver with the best opportunity here is Shepard who runs a sit route right over the football, in the space vacated by the dropping middle linebacker in this scheme.

Jones reads it perfectly and immediately comes to Shepard on this quick curl:

Put your young quarterback on familiar ground, and you are putting him in a position to succeed. 

Obviously there is a lot more clay to mold, and Jones’s story as an NFL quarterback has yet to be fully written. But he is off to a very good start and it is due in part to how his coaching staff has put him in position to succeed. By tailoring the offense to his strengths, and putting him in familiar situations, they are handling his development the right way. 

[Editor’s Note: The next phase for Jones’s development and the Giants’ approach is how to handle defenses that have studied Jones and create coverage variations for the quick game that show one look pre-snap but change up post-snap. The Patriots did this successfully against two-receiver route combinations on Thursday night—specifically, a Smash Concept early in the third quarter to force an interception in what was a seven-point game.]

[Here’s another explanation as soon as I posted this piece from Matt Bowen of ESPN and Kurt Warner…]

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