How much do the Giants use Daniel Jones, the runner?
That's one of the biggest questions facing the Giants offensive brain trust, according to The Athletic's Nate Tice in his article "Biggest questions facing each new NFL offensive play-caller in 2022."
Tice, who refers back to head coach Brian Daboll's time as the Bills offensive coordinator for clues on how often Jones might be deployed, noted that Buffalo's "most efficient and explosive run game came off designed quarterback run concepts for Josh Allen, using his athleticism to get to the outside or his excellent size as a battering ram between the tackles."
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But, as he also noted, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones "is several tiers below Allen as a player, but he does have size and speed in spades — especially when he can keep his feet." Tice concludes that "using Jones as a designed runner can help raise his floor as a player, and pairing him with a potentially healthy Saquon Barkley could lead to fun play design opportunities for the creative Daboll."
So should the Giants throw caution to the wind and look to incorporate Jones into the running game in some capacity every week?
Let's explore the question and the factors in more detail.
The Injury Factor
Let's start with the most obvious argument against deploying Jones on designed runs with regularity: his recklessness in executing them, which leads to injury.
Jones is apparently hardwired to put his toughness on display at every turn. In doing so, he tends to try to bleed every last drop out of a play, even at the risk of potential injury.
Jones, who has yet to make it through an entire season without an injury, suffered his most serious injury to date last year when he sprained his neck on a designed run. That cost him the final six games of the season and sent the Giants, who had a drop-off in quarterback talent the depth of the Grand Canyon, into a dismal, downward spiral.
Jones has, in the past, spoken about needing to be smarter when he runs with the ball, but after three years of being all talk and no action in that regard, there has been no progress in that regard, and it's reached a point where it's fair to wonder if he's ever going to change.
That, perhaps, is a big reason why the Giants declined his option year despite their constant verbal backing of the signal-caller. That's also why they protected themselves by signing backup Tyrond Taylor to a two-year deal that can pay him like a starter if need be.
Despite some of his flaws, Jones, who is facing a make-or-break season ahead, is a quarterback the Giants can win with. But he needs to be on the field doing what he does best, which is slinging the ball to his playmakers.
Although he has enough athleticism to be deployed as a runner, he's also shown by his risk-taking that it's not something that he should be trusted to do.
They Do Have Running Backs...
The primary job description of a quarterback is to throw the ball while a running back is tasked with carrying the rock through the piles.
However, as the NFL has evolved, the lines between position responsibilities have become so blurry that nowadays, you see positionless players to where it's not uncommon to see more gadget plays that weren't even thought of decades ago.
The Giants? They've always had running backs available.
Their best player at the position in the Jones era has been Saquon Barkley, but like Jones, Barkley has had to miss games due to injury, which is the "but" in this particular factor.
The problem has been the drop-off. With the Giants often struggling on offense, coaches, perhaps at times out of desperation, have turned more to Jones to get things going than the Giants would like.
Given his production, he's made it difficult to ignore what he can do as a runner. Jones has averaged 57.3 carries in each of the last three seasons, that average encompassing both designed runs and scrambles. On the whole, Jones has carried the ball 14.5 percent of the Giants' rushing attempts over those three years.
That percentage has risen when Barkley has had to miss time. In 2019, 31.2 percent of Jones's carries were on designed runs; in 2020 (Barkley's lost season due to an ACL tear), that figure jumped to 97.6 percent; and in 2021, when Barkley missed four games, Jones racked up 35.9 percent of his season total rushing attempts on designed runs.
The Giants have made a better effort to ensure they have depth at the running back position. This is not only because it's necessary, but historically speaking, Daboll, while with Buffalo, deployed more of a committee approach when it came down to distributing touches by the running back, which helped limit injuries.
This year, the Giants added Matt Breida to the roster to be the primary backup. They will have a competition to find a third running back option among Sandro Platzgummer, Gary Brightwell, and undrafted rookie free agent Jashuan Corbin, to name a few.
They Have Some Other "Gadget" Players
As of this writing, we haven't seen in great detail how Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka plan to deploy the skill position players. We know they have some other options available if they want to give opposing defenses something else to think about.
Receivers Kadarius Toney and Wan'Dale Robinson are options. He rushed 67 times for 580 yards at Florida, an impressive 8.7 yards per carry, with 26 of his rushing attempts being zone runs and 18 being gaps.
Again, we haven't seen the offense in detail, but it would not be a surprising development if the playbook has a healthy amount of jet sweeps, reverses, and end-arounds for Toney and Robinson.
What About the Production?
To conclude that a segment of the offense should be eliminated or ignored for any reason wouldn't be doing the Giants any good. So let's take a closer look at the actual production by Jones as a runner as compared to the 23 quarterbacks who had at least 20 rushing attempts last season.
Jones recorded the third-best breakaway percentage (20.5) among the same group, falling behind New England's Cam Newton (24.8 percent) and Arizona's Kyler Murray (20.7 percent), Jones's 61 breakaway yards second behind Muray's 89 yards.
But in yardage gained on designed runs, Buffalo's Josh Allen finished second (398) behind the Egles' Jalen Hurts (401) while Jones ranked eighth (149. And yardage aside, Jones recorded just 16 first downs on his rushing attempts, 16th among the 23-member sample group.
And despite having athleticism, he doesn't quite stack up against his fellow quarterbacks in terms of designed runs. Of the 23 quarterbacks last season who had at least 20 rushing attempts,
A big reason for all this could be due to the offensive line or the scheme. But in terms of the big picture, is this kind of production worth it for the Giants to expose Jones to potential injury?
So What's the Best Approach?
In this case, moderation is going to be the way to go, and that seems to be Daboll's early thinking.
During the NFL owners meetings earlier this year, Daboll spoke about his thinking from his days as Bills offensive coordiantor regarding deploying Josh Allen on designed runs, and his answer could very well offer a glimpse into his thinking with how often he asks Jones to do the same.
“With Josh, how many quarterback runs did we really run him by design? Probably more a little bit later in the year when it was crunch time," Daboll said.
But, Daboll stressed, just because he did things one way with Allen, who in the last two seasons alone executed 124 out of 170 rushing attempts as designed runs (72.9 percent), doesn't mean that it will be the same with Jones.
"That’s knowing the player, too," he said. "We’ll find out with Daniel, I think he’s got a really good skill set in that regard. How much of it we’ll do, you never know."