A Response to PFF on Daniel Jones

12/26/2019

Justin Penik (@JPenik74)

     Let's face the music; Daniel Jones has terrible advanced metrics (thanks to Ben Baldwin for almost providing the majority of the graphs used in this blog):

     PFF and Giants Twitter have nearly waged war on each other. It started with what was a poorly executed forty-five-second video saying the Giants should consider taking Alabama QB, Tua Tagovailoa, this upcoming draft. The way I heard that point and argument presented, was through a positional value mindset. If there is a "can't miss" QB prospect on the board, because of how valuable the position is, you shouldn't pass that up if there is an unproven starter on your roster. That line of thinking could also be used for a number of other teams, including a team in Washington DC, who's QB has looked considerably worse than the one we are talking about (but that's none of my business). Nevertheless, it just so happens the game after the Tua take which caused Giants fans to erupt on social media, Daniel Jones does what no other rookie QB has done in a single football game, pass for 350 yards and throw for 5 TD's in a single game. Yes, not all yards are created equally. Saquon Barkley caught a 50-yard bubble screen, and yes, two of Daniel Jones' TD's were considered "easy throws" and "wide-open targets," but I'm very willing to celebrate this historic game.

     The aftermath of this football game turned into a war waged on PFF grades (again!). I won't get into the whole legitimacy of these grades; however, I will share another graph from Ben Baldwin, the same one Sam Monson used in his article as well. Baldwin evaluated the reliability of specific tools in terms of measuring sustainable QB success.

     If you really dislike PFF grades to the point where you dismiss them, I need to ask you, who else attempts to evaluate an entire player's body of work? Their grades are unique in that regard where if I want a snapshot of Darius Leonard's season (Pro-Bowl LB from the Colts), I can quickly look up his grade. Do I understand it is not a complete evaluation? Yes! Does it provide great context when I know little about Darius Leonard to begin with? Yes! Can I move on now?

     PFF grades serve as one of the most reliable ways to measure and predict sustainable QB success. Are they always right? No! Are they transparent about that? Yes! Is any statistic and or measurement always reliable and correct? No! That's why it's important to have a brain to use stats, metrics and film to form your opinions, which is exactly what I am going to attempt to do in this blog.   

     Throughout this whole ordeal with the Giants and PFF, I have been asking a few questions to challenge those who doubt Jones to back up their claims with something of substance. We know EPA and CPOE are not in his favor, however, the Giants fan base deserves to hear something of substance from PFF as to why they may not be as high on Jones compared to some fans besides a 45-second video. Providing your opinion without the backing of film and or metrics makes you no different than the average fan. I expected better from PFF. Nevertheless, Sam Monson came out with his article today and while I believe some of his points were very nitpicky, I appreciate his work.

     So let's get to my response in terms of some of the things he addressed and how I have been viewing Daniel Jones' season as a whole. The most important graph in my opinion, when evaluating Jones' season, is the one you see below:

      This is not an effort to dismiss Jones's turnovers this year, however, it is to show just how much his turnovers impact his poor numbers of EPA at the top of the blog. The difference between EPA lost on turnovers is substantially different for the Giants compared to the rest of the league. Now we turn to the film, and I have two words for you, Nate Solder. Sam Monson does acknowledge how Nate Solder has allowed the most pressures out of any tackle in the entire league. Yet, I am not sure how much some at PFF are aware just how much Nate Solder has negatively impacted this Giants season. Even when Nate Solder isn't allowing sacks, the pressure he allows ruins entire drives. The Giants for the latter end of the season have started giving Solder help by chipping a TE or a RB to his side, and he still has consistently struggles. The extra attention in helping the LT makes the rest of the line's job much harder. Solder's level of play isn't as bad as Ereck Flowers, but we cannot diminish just how much he has impacted individual games and Jones' season.

     I would have enjoyed if PFF analyzed just how much his turnovers impact his EPA numbers compared to the rest of the league. I think this context is imperative to recognize, especially since rookies will inevitably struggle in the turnover and pocket awareness department. If the two biggest issues we are walking away in 2019 with, is Daniel Jones' ball security and pocket awareness, I will take that ten times out of ten. You can teach and improve on those things. Ball placement and playmaking ability? You cannot teach those things, and Jones has time and time again showed Giants fans he can keep his team in football games despite the circumstances around him. 

     Sam Monson, in my opinion, has largely ignored the substantial and visible efforts Jones has done to fix his fumbling issues from inside the pocket since the bye week. Navigating the pocket with two hands and ultimately limiting his turnovers since the beginning of the season has been a massive plus for him. Monson would most likely respond by showing how Jones more than a few turnover worthy plays that did not necessarily wind up as turnovers in the box score. While this is a valid point, I think to use this point to downplay Jones' potential after his rookie year is foolish. In fact, it is because of the people at PFF that I have developed the philosophy of "you can't fully evaluate a rookie QB after his rookie year." Instead of nitpicking turnover worthy plays, I think his improvements should be celebrated.

     Despite Daniel Jones having terrible EPA and CPOE numbers, ESPN QBR's metric has ranked him favorably. This rating is even more impressive when you compare him to past QB's after their first ten starts.


     Since ESPN QBR relies heavily on EPA, I've wondered, why does ESPN QBR rank Jones more favorably than EPA compared to the rest of the league? This is a question I am still looking into so if you know, please DM me on Twitter (@JPenik74) and let me know. However, I do know that ESPN QBR does take into account the level of difficulty of your opponent. So let's take a look at the defenses Jones has faced this season.

     According to EPA/play rankings, Jones has faced six above-average defenses. Arizona, being the worst ranked defense Jones has faced according to EPA/play, was Jones' best graded game of the season according to PFF. He had his third best game EPA wise against the Lions (see the first graph of the blog), and we all know what he has been able to do against Washington this year. Against other below average defenses, Jones has been able to perform well. He had one of his best PFF graded games against Green Bay in the rain and snow. When going up against the Jets, where the starting Giants LT, RT, TE, WR were all out due to injury, and Saquon Barkley had 13 carries for 1 yard of rushing, Jones found a way to keep the Giants in the game (again, thank Nate Solder for allowing a strip sack/fumble to Jamal Adams). The Jet game was also Jones' fourth best game EPA wise, slightly above the 50th percentile mark. Despite the circumstances around him, he found a way to perform and keep his team in the football game.     

     Am I calling Daniel Jones a hall of famer? Absolutely not. Does Daniel Jones still have a long road to prove he can be a successful QB in this league? Perhaps, not as long as some may think. Am I dismissing PFF and Sam Monson's evaluation? That certainly is not the intention. I am frankly challenging them to do and evaluate better. I would have loved to see Jones get ripped apart in Sam Monson's article by EPA and CPOE metrics. That would have given fans, like myself, an opportunity to learn more about how smart football minds interpret these metrics and how they influence PFF's evaluations. Instead, we got mostly a fair evaluation but in the end, it was nitpicky in nature. 

     There are reasons for optimism for Jones that aligns with analytics, not just me being a blind loyalist. I hope to be one of the Giants fans that continues to have a civil and positive dialogue with PFF because whether we like it or not, they have a tremendous impact on the game of football and they will only continue to get better.