Baker's Dozen Bills Scheme Fit: Julio Jones

This post is part of a continuing series in which we break down 13 2011 NFL Draft prospects - our Baker's Dozen - that should interest the Buffalo Bills.

Buffalo runs a hybrid passing game incorporating all four NFL offensive philosophies. This hybrid offense calls for receivers to run both vertical and hortizontal timing routes, as well as sight adjustments. Buffalo uses three basic wide receiver positions: X-receiver, Z-receiver, and the slot receiver. Chan Gailey likes to cross-train his receivers so they can play all three spots, running all routes from the basic route tree.

Basic Route Tree

Base Offense

In Buffalo's base set, the X receiver lines up on the line of scrimmage, and the Z receiver one yard off the line of scrimmage. In Buffalo's scheme, the X is normally responsible for deep routes, running No. 4 through No. 9, and variations of each of those routes. Z normally runs the shorter, catch-and-run routes. When Gailey calls vertical timing plays, the X normally opens the field up with a No. 9 or deep No. 8 route to allow the Z to run a No. 6 or No. 8 in combination.

Base Offense- Slot Variation

This set has the X and Z on the same side, with the Z off the line of scrimmage. This set allows for combinations and route crossing, where the X again opens the field up for the Z.

Three WR Offense

The concept in Buffalo's three receiver set is the same in its four and five receiver sets. The X and Z act as dual X receivers, and the slot(s) runs Z routes.

Julio Jones at X Receiver

Jones is such a good athlete that he will be able to play any position. In Buffalo's offense, playing X is somewhat of a waste of his natural talents. Jones' game is similar to Terrell Owens': deep some, but a lot of catch-and-run and over-the-middle routes. I believe that Jones' best fit is as the Z receiver in a West Coast scheme. As the X in Buffalo, he wouldn't be much of an upgrade over Lee Evans in terms of stretching the defense.

Jones at Z Receiver

Z receiver is Jones' natural position. From the Z, Jones can unleash his strength as a runner, including a strong stiff arm. With Evans stretching the defense deep, Jones would be free to run underneath coverage, making tough catches in traffic, and punishing smaller defensive backs after the catch. His effect would be similar to Eric Moulds late in the 1990s: lots of short catches turned into long gains.

Jones at Z Slot

This position also allows Jones to effectively run underneath coverages, making short catches and running after the catch. The difference with Jones in the slot is that defenses couldn't run Cover 2 to bracket both Evans and Jones.

Jones in the Slot

The three receiver set with Jones in the slot is where he could be most effective. With the Z and X receivers attracting most of the attention and coverage of the safeties, Jones would be able to toy with underneath zones, running a mostly full route tree, and taking advantage of his natural advantage in size over defensive backs. The slot would also put Jones into an ideal position for reverses or any other gadget play Gailey would call.

Assessment
Jones is a schematic fit for Buffalo at X and Z, as well as the slot receiver. With most NFL teams using a combination hybrid of all four NFL offenses, there are very few teams that couldn't use Jones. In Buffalo, the issue would be numbers. Neither Jones nor Steve Johnson have the speed to play X, which is why Evans is still on the team, despite average production. Johnson is a silky smooth route runner, and is an ideal Z receiver. Roscoe Parrish began to emerge as an explosive slot receiver. Where does Jones fit in? If Buddy Nix is convinced that Jones is worth the third pick, then that likely means Parrish is out, though Buffalo would field one of the best receiving trios in the league.

That said, drafting a Z receiver, even one as promising as Jones, seems to be a luxury Buffalo cannot afford at this time.

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