Over the last few years, the Buffalo Bills’ receiving corps has usually ranked in the bottom quarter of the league from a talent perspective. The most talented player has missed multiple games in each of the last two seasons, leaving the Bills with receivers who were playing larger roles than they should have been. Depth receivers were earning starting time, while return men and street free agents were back-filling those roles.
Needless to say, the group needed to be improved. That process began at the 2017 NFL Draft, where the Bills traded up in the second round to nab an extraordinarily prolific receiver from the American Athletic Conference.
Name: Isaiah “Zay” Jones
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 200 lbs
College: East Carolina
Draft: Round 2, Pick 37 by the Buffalo Bills (2017)
Financial Situation (per Spotrac): Jones signed a four-year contract after he was drafted earlier this year. His cap hit this year is a shade over $1.2 million, a figure that eventually rises to about $2.15 million in 2020.
2016 Recap: The ECU Pirates might have finished 3-9 last year, but that certainly wasn’t Jones’ fault. All he did was catch 158 passes, setting a new Division I record in the process (the previous record of 155 catches was set by Bowling Green’s Freddie Barnes in 2009). Jones caught double-digit passes in 10 of 12 games (catching seven in the others), topping out with 22 receptions for 190 yards against South Carolina in September. He even threw a two-yard touchdown pass in an October win over Connecticut.
Positional Outlook: With the addition of Anquan Boldin, the top three receivers in the Bills’ offense seem set. It’s hard to say exactly where everybody is going to be lining up, or how much playing time they’ll receive, but Jones figures to be an integral part of the passing game in 2017.
2017 Offseason: Jones suffered a knee injury during mini-camps in May, but he seems to be completely past it by this point. In training camp, Jones has spent most of his time working with the first team while making some nice plays on the field, although Boldin might eat into some of those starter reps.
2017 Season Outlook: While Boldin’s arrival makes things a little murkier, it’s hard to see a situation where Jones isn’t making at least 40 receptions this season. If anything, the increase in pass attempts that should accompany new offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s arrival should force a contributor like Jones to be more involved, if only by default. That said, Jones is an incredibly dependable pass-catcher (his 158 receptions last year were accompanied by only six drops) who will be invaluable in short-yardage passing situations and the screen game that might see some more action than it had in previous seasons.