EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Larry McNulty's voice drops as he talks of that day his quarterback at North Carolina's Charlotte Latin School almost snapped in half. His tone indicates a cross between amazement and admiration.
The way McNulty remembers the moment, Charlotte Christian outside linebacker Jeb Blazevich came storming untouched off the edge. Latin quarterback Daniel Jones, the same player the New York Giants would later select No. 6 overall out of Duke in the 2019 NFL draft last week, was blasted with a crushing blindside hit.
Jones flew 5 feet in the air. He landed in a heap with his earhole twisted near his nose and his helmet muddied. Jones' facemask was actually busted as a result of the crash.
The teenager trotted to the sideline and approached McNulty, the legendary coach who won 11 state championships at the school.
"Coach, get me a damn helmet!" he said.
Jones missed one snap and returned to the game where the beating continued with Jones and Latin overmatched. It only reinforced the nickname -- "Swag" -- the quarterback had been given. Knock him down and he'll bounce back up with the same confidence and demeanor as before. That is what earned him the nickname.
These same qualities were evident when Giants coach Pat Shurmur sat down to watch Jones' tape at Duke. It's why he was sold on his future franchise quarterback.
"I knew by watching him play that he was tough," Shurmur said. "That's very high on the spectrum for me, is toughness, and Daniel has that. As we went through it, when you watch guys throw -- and there's some very talented throwers, very talented, very accomplished quarterbacks in this year's draft. It's quick that you can fall in love with them at each exposure, but by the end of it, we really felt like he was our guy, and I felt the same as [general manager] Dave [Gettleman]."
"I saw a professional quarterback after the three series that I watched ... I was in full-bloom love." Giants GM Dave Gettleman on Daniel Jones at the Senior Bowl
The Giants were so enamored that they weren't willing to risk waiting to see whether Jones would last until their second pick in the first round at No. 17. They decided a couple of days before the draft they weren't willing to potentially lose their QB.
"We're not going to mess around with it," is how a source explained ownership's thinking.
After the draft, Gettleman said he knew for a fact that two teams would have selected Jones before the Giants' second pick. Multiple sources have told ESPN that it was not the Denver Broncos or Washington Redskins. The Miami Dolphins liked Jones, but it is believed they would have passed at No. 13. Then there are the Cincinnati Bengals, always a wild card, and another league source insisted there was a team in the 20's that would have traded ahead of the Giants at No. 17 had New York waited. Regardless, the Giants pulled the trigger.
It's all hypotheticals now. Jones is a Giant in part because Gettleman fell in "full-bloom love" at the Senior Bowl and Shurmur was sold after a trip to Duke and an endorsement from Jones' college coach, David Cutcliffe, who worked with both Eli Manning (at Ole Miss) and Peyton Manning (at Tennessee) and remains a respected adviser to the Giants quarterback.
Here is how it all unfolded:
Love at first sight
Gettleman was originally smitten with Jones' Duke tape. This was a key part of the process considering he's a scout at heart and a self-proclaimed film junkie. Everything afterward just solidified his original assessment.
The Senior Bowl was the clincher. Most general managers don't actually stay for the game. They place more of a priority on the practices.
Senior Bowl executive director and ESPN draft analyst Jim Nagy has been going to the event for 23 years. He remembers the New Orleans Saints' general managers occasionally attending the game, but few others. So Gettleman's presence on the sideline before the game stood out.
"So I knew they were serious about drafting a quarterback," Nagy said.
Jones and Missouri's Drew Lock were the headliners in Mobile, Alabama. Lock was right behind Jones on the Giants' board. The Senior Bowl would be Gettleman's first exposure to them in a game environment. He had seen Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins play in the Big Ten championship, and Oklahoma's Kyler Murray and West Virginia's Will Grier when they met in a Thanksgiving weekend matchup.
Seeing Jones in person was an important box for Gettleman to check. Watching a quarterback live, he can see and hear them throw to determine arm strength, the way they interact with coaches and teammates, how they react between series and their body language -- things you can't get from watching tape.
Jones went 8-for-11 for 115 yards with a passing and rushing touchdown. He won the game's MVP as well as Gettleman's heart.
"I made up my mind that I was staying for the game and, frankly, [Jones] walked out there and I saw a professional quarterback after the three series that I watched, I saw a professional quarterback," Gettleman said. "I was in full-bloom love."
All signs pointed to Jones
The tea leaves were being left behind at every stop. Aside from Gettleman staying for the Senior Bowl game, the Giants seemed to spend more time with Jones throughout the process than any other prospect.
Quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, president of player evaluation Chris Mara and director of college scouting Chris Pettit attended Jones' pro day on March 26. Not in attendance were Gettleman and Shurmur, who were at the NFL's annual owners meetings.
But the head coach and GM would get their chance to see Jones live two days later, when they joined assistant general manager Kevin Abrams at Duke to get their first-hand look at the QB. For hours they visited with the player who would ultimately be the No. 1 quarterback on their board.
Shurmur appeared to be sold during that trip to Duke, when the Giants' contingent also sat down for two hours with Cutcliffe. It was during this meeting that Cutcliffe compared Jones, at this stage of his career, favorably to Eli and Peyton Manning.
"He kind of connected some of the things, because there were some comparisons to Eli," Shurmur said after the draft.
Gettleman was already infatuated. Shurmur appeared on board. Now there was one more faction that needed to give the stamp of approval -- ownership.
The Giants had Jones in for a top-30 visit several weeks later. They had all the top quarterbacks in for a visit, but Jones was last. He was given the final opportunity to leave a lasting impression on the Giants' brass, which included owners John Mara and Steve Tisch. They needed to sign off, and they did.
The selection of Jones at No. 6 has come with scrutiny. Though Gettleman described it as the perfect melding of value and need, the pick generally drew the ire of fans and pundits. In an ESPN poll, 40 percent of the more than 45,000 participants gave the Giants a grade of F for the Jones pick. "He was a reach" was a common refrain.
Evaluations for Jones were all over the map. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay didn't think Jones was a first-round quarterback and listed him as a prospect likely to be overdrafted. He was Scouts Inc.'s lowest-graded first-round quarterback (80.0) since EJ Manuel (76.0) in 2013. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Jones much higher. One quarterbacks coach who ranked the top quarterbacks for ESPN thought Jones had a "fairly high ceiling." A scout who was not excited about this year's quarterback class as a whole viewed Jones as a "backup."
Though the Manning comparisons and connection would seem to be a positive, some might have viewed it as the Giants settling for Jones because of the Manning connection rather than Jones earning the high draft status on his own merit. Jones had been to their Manning Passing Academy twice, played under Cutcliffe, and Peyton served as an advisor for his draft decision.
Archie Manning said he didn't get a call from the Giants asking for an opinion of Jones, his former camp counselor. There was one NFL coach who reached out for intel on Jones, and that coach mentioned the uncanny similarities personality-wise between Jones and Eli.
Archie can see the comparison. His impression is that Jones is courteous and polite, an "impressive young man."
The reality is that Jones would have been a first-round pick regardless. He's 6-foot-5, 221 pounds, is a quality athlete (4.81 in the 40-yard dash) and checks all the off-the-field boxes.
"The other part of it is he’s a brilliant young man," Cutcliffe said. "Economics major. He's done not [just] good, but extremely well at Duke. So he's innately smart and he's football smart."
Gettleman has seemingly embarked on a publicity tour to defend his pick as the Giants have become a punchline.
Would there be the same reaction if Jones was selected with the 17th or even 10th pick (if the Giants traded up) instead of No. 6? Probably not.
It's not as if Jones wasn't viewed by most as a first-round pick. "What box doesn't he check?" one coached asked rhetorically.
Cutcliffe laughs at the idea that Jones doesn't have a strong enough arm or isn't accurate, insisting those critiques are misguided. Cutcliffe, who knows a thing or two about quarterbacks, quickly realized during Jones' redshirt year he had something special, even if Jones was originally headed to Princeton and came to Duke as a walk-on.
They called him "The Future" during his redshirt season in Durham. It went beyond the clear physical skills.
"Just blew me away with his competitiveness. His ability to make things happen in the pocket. His accuracy. But extra work, extra study," Cutcliffe said of what really stood out. "Me coming in on the weekend and seeing he's working -- as a redshirt -- on extra film study."
As the Giants were completing their evaluation, they reached out to coaches at Duke, beyond Cutcliffe, for information. One Giants coach wanted to know if Jones had the ability to command the locker room and get in a teammate's face if necessary. He was told that would not be a problem. Jones was a fierce and fiery competitor.
It's what McNulty saw when Jones took that nasty hit while quarterbacking at Charlotte Latin several years earlier, and it's what the Giants are banking on now.