Zay Jones Might Be the Sneakiest Pick in Best-Ball Drafts Right Now
Not every wide receiver in the NFL can smash as soon as they join the league. Sometimes they take a little time to develop. That's used to be commonplace.
It wasn't too long ago that fantasy analysts were accepting the "third-year breakout" as a thing when it came to the developmental curves of young wideouts. It's 2019 now, and there has been research indicating that the third-year breakout is less likely than a sophomore-year breakout.
But there are still handfuls of examples of wide receivers taking into Year 3 to hit their strides.
Take Davante Adams for example. Adams is amazing now, and it's easy to forget how bad things were for him early on.
Adams entered the league as a second-round pick in the now-legendary 2014 NFL Draft. In that 2014 NFL season, he looked like one of the few busts in that rookie wideout class, especially when compared to his peers. He averaged just 1.2 more receiving yards per game than teammate Eddie Lacy that season while failing to live up to expectations.
Things didn't improve much for Adams in his sophomore season. His already-low 6.7 yards per target mark from the previous year dropped to an abysmal 5.1 rate. He'd been given a golden opportunity to produce on an Aaron Rodgers-led offense with Jordy Nelson sidelined for the year, and he blew it.
But the Green Bay Packers stuck with him entering his third season, and Adams began to reward their patience. Now, in 2019, Adams is considered to be among the best receivers in the league, and he's a frontrunner to be the top-scoring wideout in fantasy football.
Obviously, a receiver isn't a lock for a big season just because they are entering their third year, and expecting anyone to follow Adams' incredible path is too unrealistic.
But Adams' career trajectory and other late breakouts -- like Tyler Boyd's -- do remind us to have patience; things don't always click right away for players. And that is something to remember when thinking about Zay Jones for 2019.
Jones is incredibly cheap right now, and he makes for a smashing value late in best-ball drafts. Let's break it down.
Jones' Troubling Production
Jones has had a rocky start to his NFL career. In fact, his rookie season yards-per-target mark of 4.27 yards is the lowest of any rookie wideout -- among those with 50 or more targets -- in the last 10 years. It was bad enough that most fantasy players wrote him off as an irredeemable bust and moved on.
Last season wasn't much better for Jones, but it was better. Though he disappointed for fantasy, he led the Buffalo Bills in most receiving stats, including targets (102), yards (652) and touchdowns (7). He was still quite inefficient, but his yards per target jumped to a more palatable 6.4 despite some dubious quarterback play at points during the season.
If Jones had any truthers left out there after his rookie season, his sophomore campaign probably scared the rest of them away.
But the Bills haven't given up on him yet, and neither have I -- not at his current value, that is.
Jones is literally free in best-ball drafts right now. According to Draft.com's Average Draft Position (ADP) data for the month of June, Jones has an ADP of 192nd overall. That makes him a 16th-round pick, which means he should be available in the final few rounds in virtually every 12-person draft. At that price, it's not hard to talk yourself into Jones in 2019.
It's totally understandable to be low on Jones. After all, he hasn't done much in his first two seasons. But ignoring his potential target volume is absolutely a mistake when we consider his cost in drafts.
According to AirYards.com, Jones had the 32nd-best Weighted Opportunity Rating -- or WOPR -- among NFL wideouts in 2018. WOPR metric that is relatively sticky from year to year that rolls a receiver's target share and share of their team's air yards into one number. Jones had one of the highest ratings in the league and returns to a team missing the seventh-most vacated targets (190) from the 2018 season.
The Bills attempted just 499 passes in 2018, the fifth-fewest in the league. A lot of this has to do with the team's run-heavy approach over the last few seasons, and the team's quarterback situation contributed to that. Nathan Peterman started games -- plural! -- for this team last year, and they were at one point so desperate due to quarterback injuries that they signed Derek Anderson off the street heading into their tilt against the Indianapolis Colts.
Buffalo should have a healthier and more stable quarterback situation this year. Josh Allen was a bit of a roller coaster ride in his rookie year, but he was the most productive quarterback the team had and the only one to throw for more than two touchdowns. A healthy Allen should be a boon to the entire offense, especially his wide receivers, compared to what the Bills' skill guys have had to work with in recent seasons.
Allen's first few starts in the league were forgettable, but he finished the season on fire -- for fantasy, at least. Over the team's final five games, Allen targeted Jones heavily -- 42 times to be precise. Admittedly, they were very inefficient on those targets, converting them into just 19 receptions for 260 yards, but that's still almost nine targets per game. You can't ignore that kind of volume in fantasy, a volume-based game.
And strangely, Jones was prolific in the red zone in 2019, especially when Allen came back into the lineup. Jones turned five of the 19 receptions we mentioned above into touchdowns. Somehow, he managed the second-highest red zone target share (41.5%) in the league, according to PlayerProfiler.com. The Bills weren't near the red zone all that often, of course, but when they were, they threw to Jones frequently. If the offense improves this year, Jones would be a candidate for spiked touchdown production if his usage remains the same.
Buffalo did sign free agents Cole Beasley and John Brown during the offseason, but neither player truly stands out as a target monster-type of wideout. Robert Foster was an undrafted free agent rookie who made his hay with the kinds of splashy plays we would typically consider to be unsustainable in nature. Even with the new and returning faces in the offense, Jones should feature heavily for a less-than-remarkable receiving corps.
Selecting Zay Jones in fantasy drafts isn't one of the most pleasant experiences one can subject themselves to, but it's one with a ridiculous risk-to-reward ratio. You can get a team's lead receiver for virtually nothing at the end of drafts, because he's been inefficient while playing for inefficient offenses in his first two seasons.
Looking past Jones late in drafts because of his past production ignores the possibility of a leap in the young receiver's third season and/or the possibility that Josh Allen takes a step as a passer in his sophomore campaign.
Jones' relatively simple path to volume, his near-free cost in fantasy drafts, and the potential upside of a year-three breakout make him one of sneakiest picks -- if not the sneakiest pick -- in best-ball drafts in 2019. Volume is king in fantasy, and it's tough to pass on reliable volume at the tail end of drafts.