Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina
(percentile rank among all WRs at the Combine since 1999, courtesy of mockdraftable.com):
40-yard dash: 4.45 seconds (71st)
Vertical: 36.5” (65th)
Broad: 133” (97th)
3-cone: 6.79 seconds (73rd)
20-yard shuttle: 4.01 seconds (91st)
Zay — or Isaiah, as his mama named him — turned in a record-setting 2016 campaign. His 158 catches were the most in NCAA Division 1 history, breaking the previous record of 155 held by Bowling Green’s Freddie Barnes. Jones also set the single-game record with a ludicrous 22 receptions in a September loss to South Carolina. And he left school with a D1-record 399 career receptions.
Jones was 1 of 3 finalists for the Biletnikoff Award (nation’s top WR), losing out to Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook.
The monster 2016 season continued a steady ascension for the unheralded 3-star recruit. As a true freshman, he finished 2nd on his squad behind only eventual 4th-round pick Justin Hardy in catches, yards and TDs.
Jones again ranked 2nd on East Carolina in catches and yards as a sophomore. (His 81 grabs were good for 18th in the nation.) Senior WR Cam Worthy, along with Hardy, bested Jones in yards.
Jones took over as the alpha dog in 2015, accounting for 30.5% of the team’s receptions, 32.6% of the receiving yards and 23.8% of the TDs. Only 5 WRs in the country caught more balls than Jones’ 98.
He led the nation in catches and finished 2nd in receiving yards this past season. Jones once again dominated market share: 44.0% of the catches, 43.5% of the yards and 30.8% of the TDs. Those marks stack up with any of this class’ top prospects:
If we’re picking nits, Jones 23 career TDs on 399 catches (5.8% TD rate) are disappointing. But his career 20.4% TD market share actually edges out Mike Williams’ 20.0%.
Courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com
Games watched - Florida (2015), South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, SMU, Navy
I started with Jones’ 2015 date with Florida, who finished that season 20th in pass defense and featured current NFLers Vernon Hargreaves, Keanu Neal and Brian Poole in the secondary.
Jones had no trouble against that unit, corralling 14 of 20 targets for 135 yards and this ankle-breaking TD:
Now, that was the most impressive route vs. man coverage I saw from Jones. He’s not particularly explosive in and out of breaks. But he tends to do just enough to create space for his QB to get him the ball. Jones is particularly adept at winning against press coverage and gaining inside position on slant routes.
And while he doesn’t consistently show the ability to create separation deep, his strong hands and body control help him make plays downfield.
Jones is at his best, though, against zone coverage. He has an excellent understanding of where to sit among defenders to give his QB a throwing lane.
Combine that with his reliable hands (just 4 drops on 85 catchable targets in the 6 games I watched) and you get a very QB-friendly WR.
Where Jones fails to stand out is after the catch. East Carolina fed him tons of WR screens, but he rarely made defenders miss or picked up yards after contact.
Jones has been building momentum for nearly a year now. There was the record-setting 2016 season, followed by an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl, and then a surprisingly strong Combine showing that earned him a SPARQ score in the 94th percentile among WRs.
That all had me excited to dig into his tape. But, to be honest, I came away a tad underwhelmed. Jones doesn’t appear to play as athletically as he tested. And his massive numbers were more a product of heavy usage than his own dominance.
That said, he’s a sure-handed receiver who seems to have a good understanding of how to beat both man and zone coverages. That makes Jones a relatively safe NFL prospect, even if he doesn’t boast a high ceiling.