Let’s preface everything to come below with two disclaimers.
1. There are no sure things in the NFL Draft, especially at the quarterback position. Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf were considered close to interchangeable in the 1998 Draft. One is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, the other finished his career with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert were top-10 picks in the same season. Johnny Manziel was picked ahead of Derek Carr. Christian Hackenberg went 84 picks ahead of Dak Prescott. Josh Allen just went No. 7 overall last year.
2. It is generally not a great idea to assume that people who have reached a high level in their chosen field – especially one as competitive as professional sports – are just hilariously and staggeringly incompetent. In many cases, seemingly bizarre decisions are actually explained by teams in all sports having access to advanced analytics that the public has no idea even exist.
Okay, with that out of the way: The New York Giants needed a quarterback this year. Eli Manning is 38, and his play has started to slip.
Thanks to a trade with the Cleveland Browns, the Giants owned not only their No. 6 overall pick in the draft, but also the 17th spot. When their first selection came up, Dwayne Haskins was still on the board.
Haskins has a rocket arm, ranked as one of the most accurate passers in college football last season, and absolutely eviscerated the nation’s top-ranked defense with 396 yards passing and six touchdowns in the regular season finale against Michigan.
This was the clouds parting and the angels singing. A New Jersey native with the arm strength to cut through the late-season Meadowlands winds was available.
And with the sixth pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the New York Giants selected Daniel Jones, quarterback, Duke University.
[Price is Right failhorn sound]
The reaction was immediate. NFL analysts were aghast. Haskins smirked.
The Giants pick Jones over Haskins.
Boo’s here! pic.twitter.com/Rm9VtPzyOE
— Scott Abraham (@ScottABC7) April 26, 2019
Jones completed 60.5 percent of his passes last season, with 22 touchdowns against 9 interceptions.
His next-to-last college game ever came against Wake Forest – not exactly the early 2000s Baltimore Ravens – and he went 17-for-36 for 145 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception.
A three-year starter at Duke, his passer ratings were 126.3, 112.0, and 131.7. His completion percentages by year: 62.8, 56.7, 60.5. His yards per attempt by year: 6.6, 5.9, 6.8.
He started three seasons without actually getting appreciably better.
Jones does not have a particularly strong arm. He is not particularly mobile. He’s… just kind of a guy.
In Haskins’ only season as the Buckeyes’ starter, he completed 70 percent of his throws. His passer rating was 174.1 and he averaged 9.1 yards per attempt.
While he’s not particularly mobile, he does have one of the strongest arms of any quarterback in the draft for several years.
If you watched any college football at all in 2018, one of those quarterbacks stood out as pretty much the prototypical NFL pocket passer. Jones was not that guy.
The Giants’ issue was only compounded when, nine picks later, Haskins went to their divisional rival Washington Redskins. So twice a year, they’ll get a chance to see a good head-to-head comparison of what they have and what they could have had.
This is not only the kind of decision that gets general managers fired. It’s also the kind of choice that can set a franchise back for years to come. Just think of the Bengals taking Akili Smith or the Browns taking literally any quarterback between 1999 and 2017.
Giants GM Dave Gettleman went before an incredulous group of reporters to defend the pick.
He said, “I saw a professional quarterback after the three series that I watched” of Jones playing in the Senior Bowl. And as soon as Jones signs his contact, that will technically be true.
Gettleman later suggested that the Giants could go with “the Green Bay model” and have Jones sit out behind Manning for up to three years like Aaron Rodgers did after getting picked by the Packers.
He talked about Haskins playing in the Big 12 (close!) and then played upon the great uncertainties of the universe to explain why they would pick a quarterback at all if they thought Manning could play three more seasons.
“We don’t know. Life’s too short. You don’t know how this thing is going to work.”
Any time you can mentally append “Enjoy Arby’s” to the end of a GM’s quote about his top draft pick, it’s always a good sign.
It will probably take a year or two before anyone really knows whether Jones over Haskins will go down as the absolutely colossal blunder that it seems right now.
At some point in the past, you should have learned that it’s never smart to just automatically assume someone with more information than you have is a bumbling moron.
But history has also shown that sometimes NFL teams get things comically wrong. And there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be the lesson here as well.