Selected out of East Carolina in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Zay Jones left college the all time FBS leader in receptions for career and single season. Jones showed flashes of that big time production with the Buffalo Bills in 2017 and 2018 but was never able to consistently perform at a high level.
Jones was also a victim of inconsistent quarterback play during his 2 seasons with the Bills. Reviewing his game film there are many instances of poor ball placement littered through his targets. Lets take a look at his game and how he can benefit the Raiders.
Beating zone coverage
You don’t become the all time leader in receptions in the FBS without having a great feel for the game. It’s clear the game moves slow for Jones who routinely puts himself in a good position against zone schemes.
The majority of the catches I charted for Jones on tape came against zone coverages. Jones has not only great feel for the game but also the ability to snap his hips down to stop on a dime in short areas. He will fit into the Raiders offense quickly as a possession style receiver.
Many games in the 2018 schedule featured Jones as the Bills primary receiver. The above clip shows one such game where the play is designed to go to Jones. He stems his route behind the clear-out from Kelvin Benjamin who runs the safety off. Jones gets his head towards the linebacker and reads his drop. Seeing the linebacker sit on the curl route, Jones converts his route into a dig and turns this play into a touchdown.
Jones ability to process on the fly is a shining part of his game. He is regularly in the right place at the right time and has a knack for finding soft spot in zones. He has a chance to become Derek Carr’s favorite WR for that reason.
Struggles against man coverage
For all Jones success against zone coverage, he rarely makes plays when the defender is in tight man coverage. Contested catches are a problem area for him on film.
Just this season when Jones played the Patriots, you can see him struggles to gain separation on the perimeter. Jones isn’t a dynamic athlete for the WR position and his lack of explosiveness and speed will put him in situations where defensive backs are draped all over him.
The times when Jones did play well against man coverage came when he worked in the slot. Jones is able to square the DB and give him a rocker step out of his break that leaves the DB a step late in a crucial area of the field.
The one area Raiders fans are the least forgiving is the drops department. NFL receivers should catch the football, Jones has not shown the same hands in the NFL that he showed in college.
Some drops are due to poor hand placement. Other drops are due to an issue tracking the football in the air. Jones falls into the second category and rarely has a game where he doesn’t drop a catch. This one in 2018 comes when he mis-times the arrival of the ball, jumps too early, and misses what should have been an easy throw and catch.
Jones has only caught a shade over 46% of his targets in his short NFL career. Those numbers are not good at all. He has experienced poor QB play at times, but great receivers find a way to catch the ball even when the ball isn’t perfect. This is the biggest area where Jones can improve as a Raider.