Can Zay Jones Be the Top Rookie Wide Receiver in Fantasy Football in 2017?

Thanks to a perfect storm of uncertainty, opportunity, and personnel, the first-year Buffalo Bills' wideout might be this year's top rookie receiver.

Over the last three weeks, the Buffalo Bills have had a teensy bit of weirdness at the wide receiver position.

On August 7, they signed veteran free agent pass catcher Anquan Boldin. On August 21, Boldin retired.

On August 11, they dealt their top receiver, Sammy Watkins, to the Los Angeles Rams. Later that day, they acquired wideout Jordan Matthews from the Philadelphia Eagles.

On August 13, during his first practice with the team, Matthews fractured his sternum. He might be back for Week 1. Or not.

All of which means Zay Jones, Buffalo's prized rookie wide receiver, has a chance to have an immediate impact in 2017.

Sure, fellow rookie receivers like Tennessee's, Corey Davis, Cincinnati's John Ross, Detroit's Kenny Golladay, and the Jets' ArDarius Stewart could make some noise, but due to a combination of situation and opportunity, Jones is poised to be the noisiest.

Here's why.

Quarterback Play

One of our proprietary metrics -- Passing Net Expected Points per drop back -- makes it easy to quickly get a sense of the quality of quarterback play.

Net Expected Points, or NEP, is a measure of efficiency. It's the amount by which a player -- in this case a passer -- increases or decreases his team's expected scoring on a per-drop back basis. For more information, visit our glossary. We can also look at Passing Success Rate, which is the percentage of drop backs that added a positive expected point value.

Check out the 2016 Passing NEP numbers for the quarterbacks who will be throwing to the aforementioned quintet of first-year pass catchers:

Quarterback Passing NEP Per Drop Back Passing Success Rate
Andy Dalton 0.25 51.1%
Tyrod Taylor 0.15 44.8%
Matthew Stafford 0.14 50.0%
Marcus Mariota 0.12 47.5%
Josh McCown 0.05 43.1%

Andy Dalton
tops this list, adding a quarter point to his team's scoring every time he drops back -- a good sign for Ross -- but fortunately for Jones, Tyrod Taylor is breathing right down Dalton's neck.

On the other side of the spectrum, the suddenly very wealthy Matthew Stafford, Marcus Mariota, and newly anointed Jets' starter Josh McCown bring up the rear, a poor indicator for, respectively, Golladay, Davis, and Stewart.

Wide Receiver Competition

The past two seasons' NEP per target illustrates the quality of competition with whom these five rookies will contend. Reception Success Rate, or the percent of catches which resulted in positive NEP, is also included. For reference, the league average for Reception NEP per target and Success Rate in 2016 were 0.66 and 83.91%, respectively.

Team Wide Receiver Reception NEP per Target Reception Success Rate
BUF Jordan Matthews 0.63 78.5%
BUF Andre Holmes 0.65 49.2%
CIN A.J. Green 0.82 89.9%
CIN Brandon LaFell 0.60 80.8%
CIN Tyler Boyd 0.56 85.2%
DET Golden Tate 0.54 76.8%
DET Marvin Jones 0.72 85.9%
NYJ Robby Anderson 0.61 81.0%
TEN Eric Decker 0.86 94.4%
TEN Rishard Matthews 0.89 95.0%

Davis, the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft, faces the stiffest competition, as both Eric Decker and Rishard Matthews have posted excellent Reception Success Rates, along with sterling Reception NEP per target numbers.

Ross has a big hurdle by the name of A.J. Green, who has been dominant by these two measures. Although Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd are below average in Reception NEP per target, they did post decent Success Rates.

Stewart will deal with the weakest competition in terms of both quality and quantity. The only incumbent Jets' wide receiver of note is second-year wide out Robby Anderson, who has a below-average Reception NEP per target.

Golladay has relatively weak competition, although it's marginally tougher than Jones'. Jones will contend with Jordan Matthews and Andre Holmes, both of whom are below league average (0.66) in terms of Reception NEP per target. Matthews boasts a decent Reception Success Rate, while Holmes' is downright bad, all of which help Jones' case.

Of course, Jones doing stuff like this also helps.

Potentially Available Targets

By looking at each team's wide receiver target totals from 2016 and subtracting the targets for players that are no longer with the team, we get an estimate of available targets.

It's not a precise measure, admittedly, as many other variables affect how often a team passes in a given year. It does, however, serve as a rough measuring stick by which we can look at the available opportunity for these rookie wide receivers.

Team Targets Available
Jets 254
Bills 229
Lions 120
Titans 52
Bengals 19

Ross finds himself in the situation with the least available opportunity, as the Bengals return all three of their top wide receivers from last year.

The Jets parted ways with Decker, Brandon Marshall, and lost Quincy Enunwa to injury, so there's plenty of opportunity in New York, which gives Stewart a path to immediate relevance.

Golladay has been getting plenty of buzz, but the presence of veterans Golden Tate and Marvin Jones should cap his upside in Year 1.

As for Jones, with Watkins and Robert Woods out of the picture, there are 200 potential targets up for grabs. Not only that, but due to J-Matt's current absence, Jones is in the unique position of having spent more time in his offense than the Bills' theoretical go-to guy, thus giving him a great opportunity to make an immediate impact.


Davis and Ross, despite their superb draft pedigrees, find themselves surrounded by quality veteran receivers, and they are on teams with little in the way of vacated target opportunities. So of the five receivers in question, Jones, Stewart, and Golladay look like the best bets for good Year 1 production..

But considering Tyrod Taylor's numbers, Jordan Matthews' injury, a whole bunch of uncertainty in Buffalo, and a favorable depth chart, Zay Jones could very well be the top scoring rookie wideout in fantasy football this year.

According to our projections, Davis and Jones are each expected to produce 105.95 standard-league points, tying both for WR45 and for first among rookie receivers. With Jones coming off the board as WR52, per Fantasy Football Calculator's average draft position data, in standard 12-team leagues, at a minimum, he will be a nice value in the back half of drafts.