When OTAs begin on Monday, there will be a different look to Zay Jones.
He will appear bigger and stronger because he’s added eight to 10 pounds of lean muscle mass to his upper body. Perhaps even more important than that, he’ll be healthy and a full participant. Neither of those things could be said at this time about Jones last year.
Not that it stopped the receiver from making noticeable progress in 2018 after an up and down rookie season.
Last season, Jones very quietly led the team in receptions (56) and receiving yards (652). He also led the team in receiving touchdowns with seven, which was more than double that of his next closest pursuer (Robert Foster – 3). And five of those touchdowns came in the last five games of the season when the on-field rapport between Jones and Josh Allen began to blossom.
That production happened despite the fact that Jones missed all of the spring workouts (OTAs and minicamp) and the first week of training camp as he was coming off shoulder surgery in January, followed by knee surgery in May.
Fast forward a calendar year and a healthy Jones has transformed his body to where he is no longer the narrow-framed wideout he was in 2018.
“I have been focusing on how I can maximize my frame and my body to be the best I can this year,” Jones told Buffalobills.com. “I think it’ll help in many aspects. My blocking, my play strength, endurance, stamina, prevention of injury. Nothing is guaranteed. Getting bigger and stronger doesn’t guarantee anything, but it can only help you and give you a greater opportunity to be successful.”
Jones proved in his second NFL season he could be a contributor to the team’s passing game. He was particularly adept at finding the soft spots in zone coverages to make plays. Man-to-man coverage proved more challenging at times, but his added strength figures to aid in him outmuscling defensive backs for the ball.
The third-year wideout however, is not ready to assume anything.
“I have a lot more work to do, but I’m excited to see what we’re going to be as a unit and for me individually coming up in this OTA phase and training camp phase and going into the season,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of potential. For myself I have a very high ceiling and I want to push that envelope.”
Jones holds back in speaking freely about what he believes this season has in store for him and his teammates because he’s dealt with setbacks before. Whether it was playing the second half of his rookie season with a torn labrum in his shoulder or suffering a knee injury that required surgery a week before OTAs last spring, he understands that circumstances can change quickly.
But in no way does it discourage him from believing what year three can be for him and Buffalo’s offense.
“I’ve learned a lot at a young age in this league to know that nothing is given to you,” Jones said. “Sometimes things out of your control happen. I’d be naïve to think that everything I have in my mind is going to go according to plan this year. At the same time I know this team has goals and I have goals that we’re looking forward to accomplishing and I know that we will reach some of those goals.”
Jones has also learned that every receiver’s game in this league matures differently. Some struggle early and get it late. Some take off from the beginning and some progressively improve year after year.
After doubling his production in 2018 across the board from that of his rookie year, Jones believes he could be the latter.
“My number one focus is to continue to build my game, who I am as a person, who I am as a player. I’m not getting caught up in anything right now because there’s nothing to get caught up in,” he said. “I could say this or that, but nobody cares because we’re not playing now. As far as how I’m going to approach things it’s just going to be daily.”
Jones’ daily approach is what made him such an attractive prospect for the Bills to begin with. A nose-to-the-grindstone type who would match up perfectly with Sean McDermott’s ‘Respect the Process’ mantra.
The Bills and Jones hope 2019 is when they both get to reap the rewards of that process.
“Getting in the best shape of my life, I know my strength staff sees that,” he said. “I know the training staff is happy that I’m healthy and I can compete and continue to work with them. But I know that this third year is going to be very special, not only for me, but a lot of people and this team. It’s time for us. We have a special group, especially adding these rookies. I’m excited for it.”