Fresh off becoming college football’s all time leading pass catcher, Zay Jones’ draft prospects continued to rise at the Senior Bowl. How much stock can we put into his gaudy numbers, and how high could he possibly be selected come April?
The ECU Pirates played from behind so much over the last few years that they’ve had two wide receivers put up record receiving numbers. Zay Jones finished his ECU career at 399 receptions, passing former teammate and current Atlanta Falcon Justin Hardy’s record that he set last year. He caught 158 balls in his Senior season, for 1748 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Although the numbers are somewhat inflated, there is a lot to like about Jones. He followed in the footsteps of his dad and his uncle, who both went to ECU before going to the NFL.
Measuring an inch taller at the Senior bowl than he was listed at on the Pirates’ team website definitely gives him a little boost. He also set himself apart in the practices and game, and there is now talk about him going in the second round.
Arm: 32 1/4″
Wingspan: 77 3/4″
The Pirates QB position has been a revolving door over the past 3 seasons, with 6 QB’s logging starts at one point or another. Zay Jones didn’t let it affect his play, as he produces with all of them. His ability to get open on short and intermediate routes make him a reliable safety net for anyone behind center.
The most important thing to note about his game is that he doesn’t drop balls. I counted one single clean drop out of all the games I watched. He also has experience running a variety of routes well. Screens, reverses and slants made up the majority of his route tree, making him a good fit for a West Coast offense.
His superior hands and concentration allow him to make plays like this one against Virginia Tech, despite being mauled before the ball arrives:
Another positive about his game is his running ability after the catch. This was seen on screens and short passes, but he also showed off some moves on a few deeper passes like this one against Florida:
Jones is polished in his route running and routinely finds ways to get open, despite defenses focusing on stopping him.
An aspect of Jones’ game that I may have been most impressed with was his blocking. There are plenty of receivers who aren’t willing blockers. However, the ECU standout routinely makes key blocks to spark a big play for a teammate. Watch him get down field in a hurry against Navy and lead the way into the end zone:
I kept finding myself amazed at how long Jones could stay engaged with a defender after initially latching onto them. This play is the reason why you continue to block to the whistle, as his block allowed the back to break a tackle and score:
Jones proved through the season and at the Senior Bowl that it doesn’t matter what defensive back is across from him, he’s going to make his plays.
Zay Jones doesn’t show many weakness in his game tape, however, there are some questions people have with him in general.
He has good height at 6’2″, but he has a bit of a thin frame. If he can run fast enough, he can stay at his weight of 202 lbs. He seems just as likely to end up adding weight and becoming more of a possession guy.
With the amount he was targeted at ECU, he didn’t have a ton of touchdowns. He appears to lack the ability to take the top off the defense or out run everybody.
There was a lot to like about this guy from his game tape, and I see him as a starting receiver in the NFL fairly quickly. The biggest question for me is how high is his ceiling? Zay Jones has more of a skill set for a number 2 receiver, lacking the top end speed and/or size of typical number 1’s.
If he can pull off something like a 4.40 40-yard dash at the combine, he can convince teams that he has the skill set to be a number 1 guy. Jones could be a huge riser late in the process this year if he continues to impress.
His best fit is in a West Coast offense where he will be able to utilize his skills with screens, short routes and downfield blocking. I have confidence in him contributing immediately in a scheme like that, but still think he has potential on any team.
Pro Comparison: Jeremy Maclin
Projection: Late 1st Round/Early 2nd Round
Like the Chiefs’ Maclin, Zay Jones is a well rounded receiver who will catch everything thrown his way, and will impact the run game with their blocking. I believe that a successful Combine will push him into the first round, and he’s a pretty safe bet to be a 2nd rounder.