When the Buffalo Bills hired Phil McGeoghan to coach their wide receivers, many assumed that the team would try to draft East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones in April. The two had worked together in Greenville during the 2016 season, and Jones had a monster year, catching 158 passes for 1746 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior.
When the Bills did reunite coach and player by selecting Jones (via trade up) with the 37th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the focus immediately switched to Jones’s fit within the team’s new West Coast offense. One betting site, Bookmaker.eu, gives the Bills’ presumed number-two receiver -140 odds to lead the NFL in receiving yards by a rookie this season.
If Jones were to lead the league in rookie receiving yards, would it be a stretch to assume he has a great shot at winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, as well? If he did, it would take a truly exceptional season to do so.
Since the Associated Press began giving the award in 1967, only 9 of 50 offensive rookie of the year winners (18%) have been wide receivers. The only Buffalo Bill to win the award? Quarterback Dennis Shaw in 1970. Interestingly enough, Shaw was the first quarterback to win the award, and there have actually been fewer quarterbacks (8) to win the award than wide receivers.
With the majority of the AP Rookie of the Year awards going to running backs, it seems unlikely that the second receiving option in a run-first offense would be able to put up the numbers necessary to win such an award, but there are some circumstances under which Jones may see more targets than we think.
For starters, the team is more likely to rely on short timing routes in new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s West Coast scheme. Jones excelled in running these kinds of patterns in college. During rookie minicamp, reporters took note of his route running ability and exceptional hands.
Also, it’s quite possible, if not probable, that Jones will be without his on-field compliment at some point during the season. Buffalo’s top receiver, Sammy Watkins, has missed 11 games over the last two seasons due to various injuries. While his absence could lead to more targets for Jones, his presence could mean more one-on-one coverages, thereby opening up the field for Jones to operate.
If Jones’s play in college is any indication, the young man has more than enough talent to be successful at the NFL level.
Who would you bet on to take home Offensive Rookie of the Year honors?