Any East Carolina University football fan who follows the NFL has likely been watching the Buffalo Bills, regardless of being a fan of the team or not. This is due to the presence of Zay Jones, a former ECU receiver who was taken by the team in the second round of the 2017 draft.
Now, fans of Jones will be sporting the silver and black of the Oakland Raiders, after an Oct. 7 trade saw him shipped to the bay area in exchange for a 2021 fifth-round pick.
The move could be a breath of fresh air for Jones. He leaves behind a Buffalo team built to win through a tough defense and doing just enough on the offensive side of the ball, not exactly an ideal situation for a young receiver now flanked by capable veterans.
As a Bill, Jones produced 1,037 yards and nine touchdowns on 90 receptions over two full seasons and the beginning of 2019 while catching passes from a mix of Tyrod Taylor, Josh Allen and Matt Barkley, according to Pro Football Reference (PFR).
Those numbers may not pop off the charts immediately, but it would be malpractice to ignore his improved statistical performance from last season. Jones led all Bills receivers with 56 receptions (on a team-high 102 targets) for 652 yards and seven of his nine career touchdowns.
The massive spike in touchdown receptions (after only scoring twice his rookie year) is the most important thing to consider. It indicates that Jones got into a groove in the red zone in his second year as a pro.
What does this mean for the Raiders? Well, the Gruden Grinders are desperate for receiver help, as they have lost defacto No. 1 receiver Tyrell Williams to injury (he is questionable to play this Sunday) alongside fellow ECU alum Dwayne Harris and J.J. Nelson.
In Jones, the Raiders have acquired a player who is used to preparing for games as a starter (27 starts in 36 career appearances) and appears to be on the rise statistically. While his 2019 stats look uninspiring (seven receptions for 69 yards on 18 targets), that is more due to a de-emphasis of the passing game by Buffalo and the offseason additions of Cole Beasley and John Brown.
Jones also appears to be better off in terms of the player he is now catching balls from. Don’t forget that Derek Carr was a legitimate MVP candidate for Oakland in 2016 (3,937 yards passing and 28 touchdowns with a 63.8% completion rating according to PFR), and while he has yet to match that playoff season, the Raiders are trending up after a draft in which they owned three first-round picks.
Even with Williams potentially returning, Jones looks like the next best option out of Oakland’s receivers, rather than being buried in an offense that isn’t the strength of his old team. If this team continues to improve, the move could set up Jones to make an impact for a team that must contend with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs twice a year.