Era Ends As Giants Bench Eli Manning for Rookie Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones #8 and Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants. (Michael Hickey/Getty)
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By Evan Bleier / July 30, 2020 8:30 am

Over the next six weeks or so, we’ll be preparing for the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season on September 10 by attempting to answer the most important question facing all 32 of the league’s franchises in order of finish from worst to first. Today’s team, the Giants.

No. 29: New York Giants
2019 Record: 4-12

Points For: 341 – Points Against: 451
Projected 2020 Over/Under Win Total: 6.5

Selected by the Giants in what most analysts considered to be a reach at No. 6 overall in the 2019 draft, Daniel Jones entered the NFL surrounded by questions.

  • Could a Duke quarterback succeed at the next level?
  • Was Jones up to the challenge of replacing Eli Manning?
  • Could he handle the pressure of playing in New York?

Thrust into the starting lineup in Week 3 after Manning led the Giants to an 0-2 start, Jones began answering those questions by throwing for 336 yards while rallying the Giants from an 18-point halftime deficit during a 32-31 win that saw the rookie toss a pair of touchdown passes and run for two more scores, including the game-winner.

Jones wasn’t as sharp the following week against the Washington Football Team, but the Giants still won by a convincing 24-3 margin, pushing the team’s record to 2-0 with the 23-year-old QB running the offense.

Then, the NFL happened.

In his final 10 starts for the Giants, Jones went 1-9, averaging 245 passing yards with a 60 percent completion rate and about two touchdowns and two turnovers per game. There were highlights — a pair of four-TD games against the Lions and Jets to go with a five-TD gem against Washington — as well as lowlights, like throwing three picks against the Patriots in Week 6 and another trio of interceptions against the Packers in Week 13. Fumbling, which Jones did 18 times to lead the NFL and set the fifth-highest mark in league history, was also an issue.

That’s all in the past now, as Jones, who is fully out from under Manning’s shadow following the two-time Super Bowl winner’s retirement, will enter the 2020 season as the unquestioned starter for New York. He also has a clean slate behind him, with first-year head coach Joe Judge and new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett bringing a new scheme and outlook to the franchise.

While the Giants will give Jones every opportunity to succeed and there will be no one clamoring for backup Colt McCoy to get snaps, the former Dukie is actually facing a good deal of pressure. Since winning the Super Bowl following the 2011 season, the Giants have had just two winning seasons, and have only qualified for the playoffs a single time, losing in the first round.

The team has won three, five and four games in the last three seasons, and used the subsequent high draft picks they received for the poor finishes — as well as the trade of Odell Beckham — on running back Saquon Barkley (2018), defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (2019), cornerback DeAndre Baker (2019), offensive tackle Andrew Thomas (2020) and, of course, Jones.

While Lawrence and Baker (who was arrested on armed robbery and aggravated assault charges this offseason) don’t do anything to directly help Jones, a stud first-round talent like Barkley is a luxury that few young quarterbacks have at their disposal. Not to mention that New York’s offense also boasts former second-rounders in wide receivers Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard, as well as the team’s 2017 first-round pick, in tight end Evan Engram. Wide receiver Darius Slayton, a fifth-round pick in 2019, had an eye-opening rookie season and is another weapon for Jones to deploy in 2020. In aggregate, the Giants’ skill players represent a huge platform for success — and high expectations for Daniel Jones.

Last season, the Giants ranked 25th in offensive efficiency. Given all of the team’s offensive weapons and the addition of Garrett — who organized the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense in 2007 during his first year in Dallas with QB Tony Romo, WR Terrell Owens, TE Jason Witten and RB Marion Barber — the franchise brass will be looking for the unit to improve by at least 10, if not 15, spots.

If that fails to happen, the bulk of the blame will fall on Jones, who showed last year he has the potential to be a high-level quarterback. Should he fail to live up to that potential in 2020, the Giants will likely find themselves picking at the top of the draft once again in 2021. And given how desperate the team will be to win at that point, with an elite talent like Barkley on the roster and in his prime, selecting another quarterback in the first round would not be out of the question.

Though it is only his second year, this season is Jones’s chance to prove they don’t need to.

“He can’t have any more 4-12 seasons,” a current NFC offensive coach told NJ Advance Media. “Their struggles aren’t just on him, but that’s what all great quarterbacks are judged by. All due respect to Al Davis, just win.”

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