Prospect to Watch: Zay Jones
This is likely the first of several articles that I’m going to write about my second favorite prospect in this draft, Isaiah (Zay) Jones.
Zay Jones enters the 2017 NFL Drafts as one of the most productive WRs in all of college football, and until the last few weeks, most non-hardcore college followers hadn’t even heard his name. If his athleticism proves to match his production, he appears to be one of the best under the radar picks in this year’s rookie draft.
Kevin Cole showed us that for WR prospects, production matters most. Using the Wide Receiver Market Share Database, we can see Jones was a standout. Jones finished his final season second in the nation in MS receiving yards with 43 percent as well as first in the nation in receptions and receiving yards. His eight TDs also accounted for 31 percent of his team’s total passing TDs, giving him a dominator rating of 0.37.
Jones’ career MS Receiving yards is 26 percent which places him on the left side of the tree, but the rest of his production metrics place him in the cohort that historically had at least one top-24 PPR season in their first three years in the NFL 32 percent of the time. Jones’ propensity for consistently catching passes knocked him from the 50 percent cohort down to the 32 percent cohort because the model prefers field stretching WRs. At just 11.1 yards per reception, Jones doesn’t project as a field stretching WR prospect, but his overall production points to a prospect that will translate to the NFL in some role. And while 11.1 YPR may appear to be undesirable for a fantasy WR, five players finished within the top 24 WRs during 2016 with a YPR under 12.
From a pure usage standpoint, Zay Jones has no obvious comparable. His 158 receptions during his senior year ranks as the most ever by a player during a single season and is 16 percent more than any other receiver during the 2016 season. While looking for an efficiency comparable, I limited my comparison to receivers from 2000 through 2016 with over 90 receptions for that season and similar yards per reception (between 11 and 12 YPR).
|Player||Year||School||Games||Receptions||Receiving Yds||Yards Per Receptions||Receiving TDs|
|Isaiah Jones||2016||East Carolina||12||158||1746||11.1||8|
|Freddie Barnes||2009||Bowling Green State||13||155||1770||11.4||19|
|Tavon Austin||2012||West Virginia||13||114||1289||11.3||12|
|Justin Hardy||2013||East Carolina||13||114||1284||11.3||8|
|Casey Fitzgerald||2007||North Texas||12||111||1322||11.9||12|
|Robert Woods||2011||Southern California||12||111||1292||11.6||15|
|Danny Amendola||2007||Texas Tech||13||109||1245||11.4||6|
|Gabe Marks||2015||Washington State||13||104||1192||11.5||15|
|Tavon Austin||2011||West Virginia||13||101||1186||11.7||8|
|Dwayne Harris||2010||East Carolina||13||101||1123||11.1||10|
|Michael Floyd||2011||Notre Dame||13||100||1147||11.5||9|
|Cole Magner||2003||Bowling Green State||14||99||1138||11.5||10|
|Isaiah Jones||2015||East Carolina||12||98||1099||11.2||5|
|Wes Welker||2003||Texas Tech||13||97||1099||11.3||9|
|Kamar Jorden||2010||Bowling Green State||12||96||1109||11.6||4|
|Ryan Switzer||2016||North Carolina||13||96||1112||11.6||6|
|Gehrig Dieter||2015||Bowling Green State||14||94||1033||11.0||10|
|Armand Robinson||2010||Miami (OH)||14||94||1062||11.3||6|
|Darrin Moore||2012||Texas Tech||12||92||1032||11.2||13|
|Juan Nunez||2010||Western Michigan||12||91||1032||11.3||10|
|James Rodgers||2009||Oregon State||13||91||1034||11.4||9|
Jones’ most successful efficiency comparisons appear to be Lance Moore, Davone Bess, Wes Welker, Tavon Austin, Danny Amendola, and Michael Floyd. That group of receivers accounts for ten top 24 finishes with Welker accounting for seven. From a physical and projected athleticism comparison, Jones appears to be a shorter Michael Floyd. Floyd has largely been considered an annual disappointment, but his 2013 season resulted in a WR25 finish.
Entering the combine, Jones has cemented his status as my favorite non-first round rookie pick in 2017. After receiving high praise for his efforts during Senior Bowl Week, it appears that NFL scouts may be taking notice as well. Some early draft analysts have projected Jones as a second round pick. If an NFL team sees Jones as a second round value, he may be poised for early success. And if you’re a believer in the college production regression tree (you should be), Jones’ success points to a historic 32 percent chance for fantasy success. If Jones flies under the radar in your rookie draft and is available in late round two, he could be a nice steal.