East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones should be ranked as one of the top wide receivers in the 2017 NFL Draft class.
Instead, the 6-foot-2 talent is sitting around No. 11 in most big boards. Jones definitely helped himself out with an impressive Senior Bowl performance, but he’s still not in the top ten in most places. This is a guy who led the nation in receiving for the 2016 season. Jones can hop on the field and start in his first year. I have zero reservations in saying that.
Remember the name.
WR Zay Jones turned some heads this week at the Senior Bowl, capped off by 6 catches for 68 yards and a TD today. pic.twitter.com/4lR0a70vl8
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 28, 2017
I caught up with Virginia associate head coach Ruffin McNeill to talk about the former ECU star. McNeill was the head coach at East Carolina when Jones came out of high school in 2013 and was one of three FBS head coaches to extend the overlooked talent an offer.
“We got to watching film and he reminded me a lot of Michael Crabtree,” McNeill, who coached the Texas Tech defense during Crabtree’s college tenure, told HERO Sports. ” It’s hard to describe, but they sort of just snatch the ball out of the air. I knew he had great work ethic and when I actually saw him on the field, I told my offensive coordinator we are going to offer this guy”
Keep in mind this was a kid literally off the radar for most FBS programs. Coming out of the football hot bed of Austin, Texas, Jones was listed as the No. 203 receiver of the 2013 class. He was pegged as the No. 1,443 player in the country. His only other offers came from Colorado (struggling mightily at that time) and Arkansas State.
McNeill believes Jones’ attention to detail, work ethic and versatility will make him an instant success at the next level.
“I’ve never seen Zay not go full speed in practice,” McNeill said. “He really set himself apart from the other freshman from day one. He’s competitive and studious. He’s versatile, and one of the few guys I’ve seen who can play all four wide receiver spots and not miss a beat. Just like Danny Amendola in the Super Bowl, he will be a guy that makes clutch catches. Zay will make any NFL team he’s on better.”
The former ECU front man only reiterated my thoughts. If Jones slips into the third round, he will still likely be a starter for a team next season. Mark my words.
Jones averaged 13.2 yards per reception and 145.5 yards per game in 2016. The next-best receiver averaged 9.7 yards and 128.8 yards per game. So why isn’t Jones considered a Top 5 talent?
Cynics will point to Jones’ obvious physical limitations. He’s 6-foot-2, which is good, but he’s not a burner so he won’t become a consistent deep threat. Blah blah blah, yada, yada, yada. Just take a quick look around the NFL and you’ll see a trend. The New England Patriots consistently find success with overlooked wide receivers like Danny Amendola, Julian Edleman and Chris Hogan.
Antonio Brown — one of the best receivers in the NFL — was selected in the 6th round. Doug Baldwin wasn’t drafted at all. Sure, there will always be the sure-thing talents like Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr., but under-the-radar wideouts can also go on to make the biggest impact. The former East Carolina star fits that mold.
Just sit back, relax and give this highlight reel a watch. Now tell me, is there anything he can’t do?