A Daniel Jones Year 2 leap would energize the Giants

There is no Eli Manning now in front of him on the depth chart, no Eli Manning in the quarterback room, no Eli Manning in the socially distanced locker room, no awkward Eli Manning questions for Daniel Jones to answer.

But because icons leave giant footsteps to fill when they retire, there will be Eli Manning questions that follow Daniel Jones everywhere every year, starting this year, way too prematurely:

Can you deliver for the New York Giants that elusive fifth Super Bowl championship? And for Daniel Jones, it will all be like water off a Duke’s back.

The signs that he is a worthy successor to the throne are only growing one day at a time.

No. 8 is enough.

He is 228, 229 pounds — 8 or 9 pounds of muscle more than a year ago — undaunted by the reality that he has been forced to learn coordinator Jason Garrett’s new offense during a virtual offseason without the benefit of a preseason game.

If his rookie coach, Joe Judge, refuses to use the pandemic as an excuse and view it as a disadvantage for him, no way his young franchise quarterback will.

“It’s on me to learn the system as quick as I can, as effectively as I can,” Jones said. “Use the time we have, use the practice we have to do that, and come in prepared and ready to go.”

This is a young man who is driven not to fumble away the opportunity of a lifetime, on the New York stage he craved.

It was as seamless a transition as the Giants could have hoped last season under the searing microscope, and now Daniel Jones stares unblinkingly into the great expectations.

No one expects him to win a Super Bowl just yet, no one should dare expect him to be Patrick Mahomes.

But that second-year leap that would electrify a fan base starving for a return to glory?

Yes, it is Leap Year for Daniel Jones.

Jones raised the bar for himself much higher than it should have been after engineering that crazy Week 3 comeback win at Tampa Bay in his first start. Even still, it made Big Blue hearts race, and Manning didn’t have a game that enthralling when he was a rookie.

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Danny Dimes, they called him.

I remember Frank Mara and Chris Mara standing in the visitors’ locker room marveling over what they had just witnessed.

“I was absolutely shocked,” Frank Mara said. “I’ve never seen a rookie quarterback, on our team, come in and play like that.”

For what it’s worth, Jones’ 61.9 completion percentage last season was higher than each of Manning’s first five seasons. It will head higher when he remembers to check the ball down more to Saquon Barkley and Dion Lewis.

Jones embraces the leadership role and showed a natural-born ability as a rookie that will only grow considerably this season. He is mature beyond his years. He is deliberate answering questions and, like Manning, is The Natural, stiff-arming even the hint of controversy.

“I think it will be easier this year for him to kind of step up as that leader,’’ Manning said.

Jones has an inner fire and raging competitiveness that is infectious. Which means he is his own man, because Manning was a different kind of leader. He reminds you of Manning in this way: Jones is poised, he is tough, he is the same guy every day, and he wants the ball in his hands during winning time.

Jones worked diligently, if not obsessively, to fix his fumbling issues (18 last season, 11 lost) and throwing on the run during the virtual offseason with Anthony Boone, another former Duke quarterback.

In the wake of left tackle Nate Solder opting out, it falls on offensive line coach Marc Colombo to construct an improved group of blockers — are you listening Andrew Thomas and Nick Gates? — that can help Jones feel more comfortable in the pocket.

“To get there the right way, I think we want to focus on what we’re doing day-to-day in this camp,” Jones said.

No one questions his pinpoint accuracy, and he checks the mobility and escapability boxes for the modern-day quarterback. As well as the braveheart and lionheart boxes. He never stops keeping his eyes downfield. If you dare him to attack, he won’t be afraid to attack. He believes in himself the way a quarterback needs to believe in himself.

“He’s pretty heroic in his attempt to make every play,” former coach Pat Shurmur said during last season.

Giants fans who were in an uproar when GM Dave Gettleman appeared to reach for Jones with the sixth-overall pick in the 2019 draft should be encouraged. It was invaluable for Jones to observe Manning up close and personal. But those who know him best assure that he was Manningesque all along. Jones is the one entrusted now with bringing the Giants back. The life-after-Eli Manning fears have subsided. Boy to Mann now.

No. 8 is enough.