Tha Sports Junkies 101

NFL Draft Player Rundown: Zay Jones

Zay Jones scouting report Fanspeak via Flickr.com

NFL

Scouting Report: ECU WR Zay Jones

Summary

Small school players don’t often get the attention that they deserve.  When they do finally get that attention, a lot of their production gets brushed aside as a product of facing lesser talent.  In addition to this “small school problem,” the other knock on East Carolina (ECU) wide receiver Isaiah “Zay” Jones is that ECU runs an air raid offense, which tends to inflate the statistics of wide receivers and quarterbacks.

Jones enters the draft after a decorated college career in which he broke the all-time records for career receptions and single season receptions.  He also has NFL bloodlines, as his father Robert Jones played in the NFL and his brother Cayleb Jones spent last offseason in training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Despite the small school and inflated stats, Jones had a coming out party at the 2017 Senior Bowl.  He put on a show during the game and was very good in practice throughout the week as well.  Let’s take a look at why this small-school, air-raid product is going to be a productive NFL wide receiver.

Scouting Report

Zay Jones has good size to play wide receiver, weighing in almost 6’2″ and 202 pounds at the Senior Bowl. He is a bit lanky but has the frame to add more muscle and could easily bulk up.  He already plays bigger than his size would suggest.

Jones has a good release off the line of scrimmage.  He is crafty with his hand usage and can get off press coverage well.  He has very good acceleration off the line and sets up his route stem well. He does the small things well to set up defenders for failure at the top of his route. He does a great job of beating defenders using double moves; this double move against Florida in 2015 was a thing of beauty.

The subtle movements he uses before breaking off his route really help Jones create separation at the top of his route.  He runs good routes and maintains speed well when he breaks off his stem.  Jones is also very refined in his hand usage, something that a lot of NFL veterans don’t even do; he subtly uses his hands to create separation from the defender when breaking his route off.

Jones has good hands.  He can make tough one-handed catches and is very good at catching the ball away from his body.  His hands are also very reliable in contested catch situations and when he has defenders draped all over him.

Jones has exceptional body control and is very good at adjusting to balls when they are in the air.  He excels at adjusting to high balls and can has explosive athleticism that allows him to jump and grab high balls over defenders.  He has very good body control and can contort his body to put himself in a position to grab off-target throws and get his feet inbounds.

Jones is a solid weapon after the catch.  He has good speed and very good explosiveness to get up-field quickly after the catch. ECU utilized a lot of wide receiver and bubble screens and Jones was often the recipient.  He has a good feel for setting up the screen blockers and can pick up yards after the catch.

One of Jones’ most impressive traits is his ability to find the seam in Zone defenses.  He shows very good mental processing skills in his ability to exploit these seams.  This ability makes him a reliable target on third downs.

Despite his lanky frame, Jones shows very good competitive toughness and courage when running route over the middle of the field.  Even when he knows he is about to get hit, Jones makes the catch and holds onto the ball.  He has strong hands and only had 1 fumble in his 158 receptions last year.

He is a good blocker in the run game and the screen game.  He has shown the ability to get in the way of defenders and can block smaller cornerbacks well.

However, he lacks a high top speed and is likely not a home-run hitter who will beat a defense with speed alone.  He also struggles to adjust to lower balls.  The majority of his drops came when the quarterback was throwing below Jones’ knees.

He does not have ideal elusiveness and lacks the lateral agility to be an elite YAC receiver.  While he is fairly effective because of his explosion, better tackling in the NFL will limit his ability to succeed on screens.

He struggles to hold blocks against defenders who are his size or bigger.  In the run game, he will struggle to hold his blocks against NFL defenders unless he’s matched up with small nickel corners.

Overall, I think Jones is going to be a very effective possession receiver at the next level.  His ability to find the holes in zone coverage and his technical soundness against man coverage will make him a very reliable receiving option.  He might fall in the draft after running a slower 40 time at the NFL combine, but after his rookie year, Jones could be viewed as a big draft day steal.

Pro Comparison

San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen

Both are similar players coming out of college, with the exception being Jones had a healthier college career.  Both lack the top end athleticism that separates “elite” wide receivers from “very good” wide receivers, but they find a way to get it done.

Projected Round: 3