By Paul Wanecski
Let's be honest, not a single fan of the Buffalo Bills can look at the current wide receiver depth chart and say "yeah, we are set for 2017". The front office sees this the exact same way. So while everyone is talking about the Bills selecting Clemson WR Mike Williams with the 10th pick, this is the perfect opportunity to tell you about the player they are just as likely to target in the draft: East Carolina WR Zay Jones.
Let me give you the "bad news" first. After being barely recruited out of high school, Jones landed at his fathers alma mater, East Carolina. Now Zay's father, Robert, took home three Super Bowl rings in the NFL when he played linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. I suppose when an alumni like Robert calls about football, people listen. His skill set is solid, yet features 9 inch hands, a knock on a receiver checking in at near 6'2". He comes from an "air-raid" college system where he thrived on an incredible volume of targets near the line of scrimmage, inflating his numbers. He doesn't punch out of press coverage well. He does not have a "second gear". Jones does not have exceptional quickness in his feet, meaning his acceleration off the line is perhaps average.
So why would the Bills ever think of drafting this guy? Most Bills fans will recall the Love/Hate relationship with former wideout Stevie Johnson. We scoured up his old scouting report from NFL.com. Go ahead and read it here. Sound familiar?
The weaknesses you find with Jones align in a very similar way to Johnson. I don't want to praise Stevie as this phenomenal talent. He was a solid receiver for the Bills during his time. It is important to remember what kind of player you are drafting. The Bills are not in need of a guy who will challenge Sammy Watkins for the #1 WR spot. They need a solid possession receiver with great hands who can move all over the field, especially one who always feels that he has something to prove.
Now on to the positives. Jones has great hands, snagging the ball out of the air, away from his body and muscles it into his chest, protecting it from contact. Much unlike Bills WR Sammy Watkins, Jones loves contact. He saw a lot of action in the slot, where he was able to grab catches in tight windows, secure the ball, and fight for yards. He can dominate against zone coverage as he play recognition and football IQ put him near the top of the draft class in that category. He will fight for the ball in the air. Along the sidelines, Zay has shown outstanding footwook and body control. I would like to see his lower body turn quicker to get up the hash-marks while working the middle of the field, but that is nitpicking.
Zay will make an excellent compliment to Watkins in Buffalo and he won't cost you the 10th overall selection. Since he hasn't shown the ability to consistently generate separation, he would work best out of the slot where he would easily mismatch most linebackers or nickel corners. Using Jones on the outside is possible, however, it wouldn't be the best use of his skill set. He is a gym rat who will quickly pick up his role and show dedication and leadership. He ran a 4.45 forty time at the NFL Scouting Combine, but that number is a little misleading, as previously stated, he lacks the suddenness in his routes to generate that separation just yet. New Bills WR Coach Phil McGeoghan spent one season with Jones at East Carolina, where he was also the WR Coach. Jones fits exactly with what Rick Dennison will be doing with this offense, and while he isn't the most explosive WR you will see on the field, he is a dangerous target. It is hard to gauge where Jones will be drafted, but regardless if it is in the second or third round, you will be getting a starter who immediately becomes your primary target on third downs, something the Bills desperately lack. Did we mention that he is the all-time career reception leader in FBS history? Ok, that too.