Giants GM on Daniel Jones: ‘You don’t get cute with a quarterback’

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Odd travel weekend, and I was writing outside on a lovely early Sunday morning in Phoenix, at a table in the back of my hotel. Middle-aged guy approaches, introduces himself. “Giants fan,” the guy said. “Talk me off the ledge. Does Gettleman know what he’s doing?”

“I’ll give you one,” Gettleman himself said over the phone an hour later. “I was at my bagel shop this morning. Guy said to me, ‘Dave, great pick.’ “

Just a feeling: The guy at the bagel shop is not in the majority among Giants’ fans.

My big question to Gettleman in the wake of the weekend centered around taking Duke quarterback Daniel Jones at six. (Isn’t that the question on every Giants fan’s brain right now?) Actually, I had a couple of questions. That was the first, and then, why was Gettleman trying to trade with Denver at 10—which John Elway told me in Denver after the first round.

Why, I asked, did Gettleman not do what the chalk said there—get the desperately needed pass-rusher, Josh Allen, at six, and then take the calculated risk of letting Jones slide, and getting him either with the second first-round pick (17th) or in a slight trade-up from 17?

“I agonized over that,” Gettleman said from his office in New Jersey. “I agonized. Before the draft, we discussed that thoroughly as a group—first last Friday, then again Wednesday. Obviously we had great regard for Josh Allen. But the one thing I have learned is you don’t fool around with a quarterback. If he’s your guy, you take him. If you put 32 general managers in a room and gave ‘em sodium pentathol [truth serum], every single one of them would tell you a story of how they got cute in a draft and it cost them a player they wanted. So you don’t get cute there. You don’t get cute with a quarterback.”

Gettleman told me he “knows for a fact” there were two teams that wanted Jones between six and 17. I could not find them, though I certainly can’t say with certainty that two do not exist. Either way, Gettleman believed it was not a risk worth taking. And so instead of having some percentage of a chance to get Allen at six and Jones at 17 (or earlier in a trade-up), the Giants got Jones at six and run-stuffing defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence at 17. Finding a run-stuffer, obviously, is easier than finding a pass-rusher. So we’ll see how it works out.

But let’s go through the exercise and see about the two teams and Jones, starting with Jacksonville at seven. No; just signed Nick Foles. Detroit; highly unlikely with Matthew Stafford in-house. Buffalo; no, Josh Allen (the Wyoming QB) just drafted last year. Denver at 10: I was there, and Broncos had Drew Lock number one on their QB board. Bengals at 11; doubtful but don’t know for sure. Green Bay at 12; highly unlikely. Miami at 13; unknown. Atlanta at 14; no way. Washington at 15 seemed locked in on Dwayne Haskins. Carolina at 16; highly unlikely. So Miami, maybe. I can’t find another one that appears likely to have had Jones in the crosshairs, though that doesn’t mean it was not so.

The bile aimed at Gettleman was, even by New York standards, extreme. WFAN’s Mike Francesa called the Giants “football clowns … chronic losers” with a GM “who doesn’t have a plan.” The Post’s back page had Gettleman looking clueless and a “BLUE’S CLUELESS” headline. On Twitter, someone posted “Dave Gettleman’s Résumé” and this:

Gettleman brings some of this on himself when he says things like he fell in “full-blown love” with Jones after watching him play three series at the Senior Bowl … as though that’s all he had to see to mortgage the Giants’ franchise on Jones. Clearly he studied the quarterbacks at length and decided Jones had the arm strength and mental makeup to be the best of the four atop this draft. “Being the quarterback of the New York Giants is a mental load,” he said. “If you can’t handle the mental aspect, you can’t make it. That’s one of the things we liked about Daniel.”

Part of Gettleman understands the visceral reaction to the pick. He told me if he couldn’t deal with the brickbats he’d go back to coaching high school football. (At a fairly significant salary reduction.)

But part of him is sad for what the business has become.

“The bottom line is, I have confidence in what I do and who I am,” he said. “I’ve been a part of organizations that had pretty good quarterbacks—Jim Kelly, John Elway, Kerry Collins, Eli Manning, Cam Newton. I’ve led a charmed life with the quarterbacks on the teams I’ve worked for. I know what good ones look like. The other thing is, résumés matter. Every once in a while, I wish the people taking the shots would take a minute to look at my résumé. I’ve been a part of teams that went to seven Super Bowls. I had a hand in some of them. But today, there’s no patience. And there’s no room for civil discourse in our society, which I find sad.”

I would have done it a different way, I think. I’d have taken Allen at six and found a way to trade back for Jones, if I was that worried about missing him at 17. To me, the risk to acquire a pass-rusher (an essential element the Giants do not now have) would have been worth it. But the point about Jones, and going all-in for a quarterback you like, is something every GM has to do at some point. I don’t believe Gettleman was dumb for picking Jones, because quarterback-prospecting is one of the most inexact things a GM has to do. Lawrence is a solid but likely overpicked defensive tackle. The third first-rounder, cornerback Deandre Baker, could well be a day one starter at a position the Giants had a big need.

Nothing anyone could tell Gettleman could dissuade him from thinking the Giants got a lot better over the weekend—even if the sixth pick doesn’t play for a year or two. Football requires patience to judge whether players turn out to be good, particularly at quarterback. But the Giants haven’t won a playoff game in seven years. Eli Manning’s a swell guy, but seven-year droughts are not often broken by 37-year-old quarterbacks. It’s time to turn the page. Fans want change now. With the Giants, it’s not happening that fast.

“In three years,” he said, “we’ll find out how crazy I am.”

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Five NFL players who could become stars in 2019

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By Sam Monson, PFF Senior Analyst

One of my favorite aspects of PFF data and grading is how it can spot the obvious coming when it’s still some ways off on the horizon—getting ahead of the curve and identifying talent before it becomes self-evident. Every year there are players who excel in limited snaps before ultimately being handed a larger role and workload for their teams. When they continue dominating, we wonder how they were ever seen as anything other than superstars.

Case in point: When Joey Porter was a star and the sack leader for the Miami Dolphins back in 2009, coming off a 17.5-sack season, we at PFF were clamoring for his backup –- a former undrafted pass-rusher who had not long before been playing in Canada -– to get more snaps because he was generating pressure at a far greater rate than Porter. Cameron Wake ultimately went on to be one of the best pass rushers of the past decade and looked it from Day 1 if you were seeing beyond the box score numbers.

Such examples are everywhere, and each year it’s always an interesting exercise to take a look through the PFF grading and predict the players that could take that next step if they get the right opportunity. This past week we unveiled our PFF 50—a list of the best 50 players in football entering the season—but in this case let’s look a year from now and predict some players who could make that list in 2020.

Levi Wallace, CB, Buffalo Bills: If there’s a player with the backstory to rival Wake’s, it’s Wallace. With precisely zero scholarship offers coming out of high school, Wallace walked on at Alabama, and eventually earned a starting job. Then he had to do it all over again when he went undrafted before signing as a collegiate free agent with Buffalo. As a rookie in 2018, he earned the highest PFF grade of any first-year cornerback, along with the highest coverage grade, and wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 29 yards all season. Though he played far fewer snaps than first-round selection Denzel Ward of Cleveland, Wallace looks like a potential star in the making if he’s given greater opportunity in year two.

Vita Vea, DL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: At the other end of the scale, you’ve got Vea, a player who went in the first round in 2018 but fell off the radar a little because he began the season injured, then took a little while to get going and ultimately didn’t produce the box score production people want to see. Vea ended up with only three sacks, but had 23 additional pressures as a pass-rusher, 17 of which came in the final six weeks of the season. Over that stretch of play, his overall PFF grade was 86.4, and he had a top-20 grade at his position, hinting at what’s to come.

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Minnesota Vikings: Changing positions in the NFL can be a significant adjustment, and sometimes it takes time. The Vikings drafted Alexander in 2016’s second round and moved him inside to the slot after he principally played outside at Clemson. His transition wasn’t smooth, but he has now seen his overall PFF grade improve each year of his NFL career: from 47.5 as a rookie, to 54.1 in 2017, climbing to 78.1 last year. Over the final half of the season, he was the highest-graded cornerback in the league at 88.2, surrendering just 80 receiving yards in a seven-game span. Alexander could emerge as a force with the right opportunity in 2019.

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Another former first-round pick, Howard has yet to top 600 receiving yards or 35 receptions in a season, even while tight ends are breaking receiving records across the NFL. Dive deeper into the numbers, however, and Howard looks primed for a huge season with an uptick in opportunity. His overall PFF grade last season was 89.4, higher than any other tight end outside of San Francisco standout George Kittle. And on a yards per route basis, he was third behind only Kittle and Kansas City star Travis Kelce. His average depth of target was 11.3 yards downfield, a top-five mark in the league, and now the vertical threat he brings is being linked up with new Bucs coach Bruce Arians and an offense that lives down the field.

Jon Halapio, C, New York Giants: The Giants are revamping their offensive line in a major way, but one of the unsung components of the rebuild is at center, where Halapio could emerge as a foundation piece to the new-look front. He began last year as New York’s starter before going down with an injury after just 116 snaps of action. But in those snaps, he didn’t allow a single pressure, despite almost 50 pass-blocking snaps against the Jaguars and their array of pass-rushing weapons. With vastly improved players beside him, Halapio could prove to be a significant upgrade as a player who isn’t being talked about much heading into 2019.

Why Jameis Winston could win NFL passing title in 2019

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By Pro Football Focus

We think Jameis Winston will challenge for the passing yardage title in 2019. Last year he trailed only Josh Allen in average depth of target. These throws put Winston in a position to do great things at times (he was second among quarterbacks in the percentage of throws we grade as “positive”), as well as bad things (he was 21st in limiting negatively-graded throws). New Bucs head coach Bruce Arians has a track record of succeeding with high-variance quarterbacks like Winston.  In 2015 Carson Palmer had an MVP-caliber season under Arians, posting roughly the same average depth of target as Winston in 2018 and leading the league in percentage of positively-graded throws.  With Mike EvansChris Godwin and O.J. Howard a very capable trio of pass catchers, look for Winston to either make good on his 2015 draft position or give the Bucs no other option but to find his replacement the following year.