Buffalo Bills: 2017 Breakout Candidate – WR Zay Jones
After the 2016 season, the most noticeable hole to ﬁll for the Buffalo Bills was at wide receiver. At one point, the Bills got so desperate at the position they dug deep through their Rolodex to bring back retired vet Percy Harvin. Even then, production was much lower than expected. However, with the 2017 NFL Draft, the Bills may have hit the jackpot when they landed Zay Jones.
Jones skill set gives the Bills the perfect weapon opposite Sammy Watkins. While Watkins will be free to be their big body receiver, Zay Jones ought to look familiar to another AFC rival receiver. His route running abilities give him the advantage in the short to mid game similar to what Jarvis Landry brings to the Dolphins. Like Landry, Jones ﬁnds ways to get open and make the most out of every catch rarely dropping the ball. If Jones has similar success as Landry, the reward will be great if Bills fans are patient.
Jones’ biggest hurdle to overcome will be his ability to get points on the board. His touchdown numbers were not what they should be for someone with as many catches as he had. He does not have the breakaway speed needed to be a consistent deep threat so if he does score it will typically be a YAC situation. Unless the Bills ﬁnd another receiver who can tear the top oﬀ a defense, they will have Jones, Watkins, and Clay as their short yardage receivers. All three have the ability to get open but unfortunately, it will allow defenses to cheat the line with towards the run game. Buﬀalo will have to do its best to run a fast-paced oﬀense to keep opponents on their heels and not allow them to get fully set up each down.
New oﬀensive coordinator runs the perfect West Coast style oﬀense to achieve this. Known for his quick tempo, short to medium passing tree, and hurry up oﬀense allows the Bills to lean on the skill set of their receivers. The most important part of his early success will be chemistry with veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Taylor can be a mobile QB from time to time, which would also play to Jones’ strengths. Going back to his ability to get open will allow Taylor to move the pocket should the rush get to him too quick.
Jones also creates a series of tandem matchups in the Buffalo Bills oﬀense. Line him up on the same side as Watkins would allow Watkins the deeper route or force man-to-man coverage. If he is on the same side as tight end Charles Clay and run a mid-range route and it will allow Clay to catch the ball in open space where he excels. Even when he lines up solo opposite of everyone else, running a short route out of the backﬁeld with McCoy to his side gives the oﬀense a diﬀerent look in short yardage or goal to go situations.
Zay Jones will easily open up the whole oﬀense with his skill set. Buﬀalo will just have to ﬁnd the right ways to get him open. If he is underutilized early, expect the Bills to struggle out of the gate. Too much rides on the rookie’s success for him to be inactive in the oﬀense. If the Buffalo Bills can develop him into their own version of Landry, the oﬀense should be competitive. They have been plagued with a run-heavy attack for too long. While its lead the NFL, it has done little to change the outcome late in games. They need to ﬁgure out how to balance their attack and get the ball down ﬁeld quicker. Jones will be the often-open receiver to lead to their success. If all goes well with his role in the oﬀense, look for him to be the team leader in catches after this next season.
Editor’s Note: This article can also be seen in our upcoming NFL Preview Edition.