The Buffalo Bills boasted a sub-par wide receiver corps for much of the 2018 season, with two notable exceptions.
One was the breakout effort put forth by undrafted rookie free agent Robert Foster, who exploded onto the scene with three consecutive 100-yard games and finished with 541 yards on 27 catches (an average of 20.04 yards per catch) with three touchdowns.
The other solid performance at wide receiver came from Zay Jones, Buffalo’s second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft out of East Carolina University.
After enduring a roller-coaster rookie season where he caught only 27 of 74 targets for 316 yards and two touchdowns, Jones rebounded big-time in 2018.
Jones appeared in all 16 games (15 starts), catching 56 passes (on 102 targets) for a team-best 652 yards. Jones established himself as a credible red-zone threat, scoring seven touchdowns, 16th-best among all wide receivers in the league. Jones had as many touchdown catches (seven) as JuJu Smith-Schuster, and more than Keenan Allen, Odell Beckham Jr., Julian Edelman, T.Y. Hilton, and Brandin Cooks.
He averaged 11.6 yards per reception, down a tick from his rookie season (11.7 yards/grab), but that was the only statistic worse from a year ago.
What’s even more surprising than Jones’s productivity in 2018 is that he did it following a tumultuous offseason featuring a bizarre incident where he was eventually arrested after a naked, bloody argument with his brother in Los Angeles on March 19.
Jones put the distraction of that incident behind him, dedicated himself to the football field, and developed a solid rapport with quarterback Josh Allen. Sure, the drops were still an issue over the final four games, including a huge drop in a 21-17 road loss to the Miami Dolphins, but Jones displayed enough talent and skill to make Bills fans think he could be poised for a breakout 2019 campaign.
The resurgence started in Week 10, when Jones hauled in eight passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in a 41-10 win over the New York Jets. That started a stretch where Jones scored six touchdowns over Buffalo’s final seven games, including a pair of multi-touchdown outings: Week 13’s loss to the Dolphins, and a six-catch, 93-yard effort in a Week 17 win over the Dolphins.
The Bills drafted Jones after a stellar career at East Carolina, where he caught an NCAA Division I record 399 passes for 4,279 yards and five touchdowns.
Bills fans saw glimpses of the Allen-to-Jones connection in 2018, and the more work these two put in this offseason, the more likely it is Jones continues his development into a solid slot receiver.
While it appears that Jones will never be a true No. 1 receiver, Bills fans will be happy if Jones takes another leap forward in 2019 as a valuable possession receiver who makes clutch grabs out of the slot and keeps the chains moving.