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How Bills WRs coach boosted Zay Jones draft stock
April 29, 2017 12:15 AM | Chris Brown

East Carolina WR Zay Jones was going to be a receiver who heard his name called in the 2017 NFL draft. In the Pirates high-octane offense, Jones was a frequent target and made plays week in and week out. In his junior season he had just completed his first 1,000-yard receiving season with 1,099 yards on an eye-popping 98 receptions including five touchdowns. But when East Carolina hired Phil McGeoghan as their receivers coach for the 2016 season, Jones had no idea what a change for the better it would be.

Strictly a slot receiver his first three years, it was quickly explained to Jones by McGeoghan, who came to East Carolina after coaching receivers with the Miami Dolphins for three seasons, that he was capable of much more.

"For three years I primarily played in the slot at East Carolina," said Jones. "I wasn't an outside receiver. And then Coach Phil came to me and said, 'Hey, if you want to play in the National Football League, you've got to play some outside. With your frame, with your size, with your skill set and your ability, we've got to get you outside.'"

At 6-2 and 202 pounds, McGeoghan knew that Jones was capable of vastly diversifying his game. A smooth route runner, Jones' new receivers coach began assigning him a variety of routes typically run in NFL offenses.

"He told me, 'We've got to get you in some more pro-style routes, like 18-yard comebacks, curls, things of that sort,'" said Jones.

Jones proved to be a quick study in advance of his senior season at East Carolina. The Pirates were working with their third new coordinator in three years, but it didn't stunt Jones' playmaking ability or production. He went out and set a NCAA record with 158 receptions in one season (12 games) and in the process also broke the record for most receptions in a college career with 399.

"A lot of my friends tease me about not getting 400," said Jones. "I've still got the record. I'm happy with it. You go back to all the drops that you had and you kind of pinpoint and be like, man, if only I would have caught that one."

At the start of the pre-draft process Jones put together a strong Senior Bowl week in Mobile in January. He dispelled the widespread opinion that he did not have play speed or foot quickness to get consistent separation as he was frequently open for targets. Jones had three touchdown receptions in the Senior Bowl game, but one was incorrectly ruled incomplete in the back of the end zone after replay revealed he secured the catch and got a foot down inbounds. Another was called back on a holding penalty. He still finished with six receptions for 68 yards and a score.

To say he has strong NFL bloodlines would be an understatement. His father, Robert Jones, was a linebacker who won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and had a 10-year NFL career. His uncle is former Cincinnati Bengals QB Jeff Blake and his older brother Cayleb is currently a receiver on the Minnesota Vikings.

"The Jones' household was very competitive," said Jones. "My younger brother thinks he's the best. I think I'm the best. Cayleb thinks he's the best. It's fun. My dad holds the bragging rights right now because he went in the first round. We'll see if I can make that push to beat him."

After running a 4.45 40-time at the NFL Combine Saturday, Jones has only enhanced his draft stock. That combined with his polished route running has vaulted him into the high day two conversation for the 2017 NFL draft.

That's why he points to Buffalo's new receivers coach as a big reason why he's being mentioned among the top five wideouts in the class.

"I don't think I'd be standing at this podium if it wasn't for Coach Phil and the things that's taught me and the way he's translated me into being pro-ready," Jones said. "So a great thank you to him. He's going to be great at the Bills. I loved playing for a person like that and whoever he gets to coach will be lucky in the future."

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