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I've been working on adjusting both my personal rankings and the projections found in our Draft Guide all summer. The projections function as a baseline. If everything plays out like it is expected to, they are a realistic guess at what the numbers might look like. My rankings consider the math behind the projections but factor in upside that isn't readily apparent in a median outcome. Instead of just claiming “ceiling” and calling it a day, I want to look at what an elite outcome for certain players, teams, and situations might look like. In the first installment in this series, I bravely ask, “What if the Giants are good?
The offense starts with Daniel Jones. Our projections have Jones as the QB21. Our staff rankings like him a bit more, giving him the honorable distinction of QB17. Versus his ADP of QB22, both sources would say he is a value, though neither our rankers nor projections would have you running up to the podium to draft him. There are two glaring reasons why Jones doesn't look good in the projections. The first is that the numbers don't expect him to be efficient. They have him at 6.9 yards per attempt and a truly abysmal three percent touchdown rate. As awful as these numbers sound, the touchdown rate would be better than his marks from the past two years, and he has never reached 6.9 yards per attempt in a season. Knowing that we already have Jones surpassing numbers he has struggled to hit, the case for his ceiling and the offense as a whole looks bleak. However, there are some aspects of his projection that can be boosted without Jones becoming an elite passer overnight.
Making the Case
One major difference for Jones will be his receiving room, and this could be the key to unlocking his upside. Before Jones went down last year, he averaged 9.3 yards per attempt when throwing to Kenny Golladay and 8.2 when looking at Kadarius Toney. Golladay missed three games while Toney was out two weeks. Toney also took the field for fewer than half of the team's snaps when active. This was compounded by less than stellar offensive design and Jones's hesitancy to push the ball downfield. Ideally, Brian Daboll, Buffalo's offensive coordinator of three years and New York's newest head coach, is able to change this dynamic for the better. The Bills were extremely aggressive with their deep passing last year and the offense didn't shy away from running through its best receiver, Stefon Diggs. Jones has the arm to connect on deep shots. He just needs an offense that brings out the best in him instead of funneling inefficient targets to Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard.
The touchdown rate is also an issue, and it becomes glaringly obvious when looking at the team's red zone success rate. New York converted 45 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns last year. Buffalo converted their red zone trips at a 66 percent clip. The Giants were dead last in this metric last year and 31st in it in 2020. Some of that is on Jones, but plenty of the blame can be given to Joe Judge and Jason Garrett. In Jones' only season without Judge, the Giants ranked 17th in red zone success rate.
As a byproduct of how terrible the offense was last year, the Giants did not get to run a lot of plays. They ranked 25th in plays per game and 26th in plays per drive. With a middling projection for Jones, it's hard to see them running many plays in 2021. Last year, five of the top seven teams in yards per play also ranked inside the top seven in total plays. The number of plays a team runs can be influenced by an absurd amount of factors. The quality of their defense, pass rate, pace, and play sequencing are all going to play a role. However, simply being better at football is a great way to get more plays off by having drives that last longer.
So, now that we have some solutions for Jones's woes—better receiver play and coaching that doesn't sabotage the team at the most crucial point of a drive—we can begin to look at what a more optimistic projection for him and the entire offense would look like.
This is as far from an exact science as something can get, but that's the point of chasing upside. The greatest minds of our time couldn't see Josh Allen coming, and they certainly weren't accurately projecting his per attempt stats before his breakout season. Most importantly, Jones doesn't need to become Allen to crush his ADP. I won't be projecting him anywhere close to the gaudy numbers Allen puts up.
Just by allocating more targets to the receivers in New York, something that was a staple of Daboll's time in Buffalo, Jones already begins to look like an average passer. With Toney and Golladay both pushing for 20 percent target shares, Jones gains some yards on his bottom line. The receivers, on the other hand, approach 1,000 yards. In this scenario, I gave Toney a slightly higher target share, though neither player had to eclipse the 20 percent threshold for the offense to improve.
Adjusting our priors to increase the weight of games played with Jones versus the backups also helps nearly every player on the team look better. Golladay was a strong downfield option with Jones but his numbers cratered without him. After making these adjustments, 4,500 yards looks like a high-end goal for him.
I was able to juice the number all the way up to 4,581. This number and the baseline projection for Danny Dimes rely heavily on the team passing at a high rate. Last year, the only situation that the Bills leaned substantially toward the run was second and short. Their pass rate on first down is how the best teams keep drives going. Bringing that philosophy to a team with a worse defense could see the Giants post one of the highest pass rates in the league.
Because touchdowns are far more random than a player's ability to get targets and make his offense better, I don't want to spend too much time on it. In other words, I think Jones could be an average touchdown scorer, but I know Toney can earn targets at a high rate. If Jones scored at a league-average rate on the ceiling outcome of his volume, our projections would have him at 28.8 touchdowns. Rolling all of his ceiling-scenario stats into a fantasy score sees him come out as the QB9, though very little separates him and the five players ranked ahead of him.
How it Happens
The thing about an absurdly high pass rate is in general two types of teams use them: good teams and really bad teams. The middle is hard to find. Last year, there was just one team that finished top-10 in pass rate with between five and eight wins. Every other team either finished above .500 or bottomed out to four or fewer wins. The teams that reached rock bottom, Jacksonville and the Jets, were not teams we wanted to target for our fantasy rosters. At the end of the day, Jones has to improve to avoid joining the ranks of the cellar-dwellers. He has the arm and athleticism to be a QB1, but far too often he whiffs on a routine throw. That may just be part of who he is as a quarterback, and it has already popped up in training camp.
Secondly, the defense staying the same or getting worse would help. New York ranked 20th in EPA per play on defense and lost a few contributors in free agency. They also lost defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. The true gold mine is if Jones improves, the offense gets some of that delicious Buffalo sauce, and the defense forces them into a handful of shootouts.
When Jones hits, Toney and Golladay are the ones who beat their ADP. Toney, as it turns out, is really good. A few months after finishing top-10 in targets per route run as a rookie, Toney is winning contested catches on the daily in camp.
Golladay profiles as the touchdown scorer of the team. Though he didn't score once during his first year in the big city, Golladay led the Giants in red zone targets and end zone targets. Toney could be the engine of the passing game but Golladay and Jones also need to connect in high-leverage situations. It's even viable to stack Saquon Barkley with his quarterback. If the red zone struggles come to a merciful end, Barkley will up his scoring numbers on the ground and through the air.