Wide receiver isn’t exactly a position of dire need for the Bengals heading into 2017. Although, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to bring in another player to push guys in the current receiving corps, especially a guy like James Wright who struggles to find playing time. And, adding speedy threat to the group should be something the Bengals are looking to do. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Bengals, according to Walter Football, met with East Carolina University standout Zay Jones at the Senior Bowl.
Jones is someone scouts have been paying more attention to in relation to the 2017 NFL Draft. A monster senior season at East Carolina (158 catches for 1,746 yards and eight touchdowns) put him on the map.
Despite his incredible athleticism and production, he does tend to struggle with creating separation on fly routes. In essence, he has yet to prove himself as a true deep threat. Furthermore, his slim 6’4”, 195 pound frame limits his ability to go head-to-head with more physical defenders.
However, what he lacks in separation and physicality, he makes up for in body control, athleticism, and route-running. Furthermore, the quarterback situation at East Carolina was questionable at best, so imagine how effective he could be when he is paired with a solid quarterback situation in the NFL.
The general thought is that Jones is a mid-round prospect, but his performance at the Senior Bowl and moreso the NFL Scouting Combine will truly tell the tale of how scouts and teams feel about him. His athleticism is arguably his best trait, so he will want to show that off as much as possible at the combine.
Although East Carolina has produced a respectable number of NFL players, despite not being known as a college football powerhouse, very few have played for the Bengals, and even fewer have been drafted by them. Granted, one of the more underrated quarterbacks in Bengals history, Jeff Blake, spent his college years at East Carolina. But, he was originally selected by the Jets in the sixth round of the 1991 NFL Draft.
The Bengals’ only two draft choices out of the school were defensive back Ellis Dillahunt in the 10th round of the 1988 draft and offensive tackle Tom Scott in the sixth round of the 1993 draft. Both players lasted only a single season in the NFL before the Bengals cut them. If the Bengals were to draft Jones, he would likely be the highest player drafted out of East Carolina by the Bengals ever.
Wide receiver isn’t exactly a huge need for the Bengals right now. A.J. Green leads the unit and is easily a top-three wide receiver in the NFL. Behind him, the Bengals will likely try to re-sign Brandon LaFell, who performed well in 2016 after the Bengals made him a veteran free agent signing. They also drafted Tyler Boyd and Cody Core in the 2016 NFL Draft, both of whom impressed as rookies.
Finally, the Bengals’ wide receiver depth chart is shored up by James Wright and Alex Erickson. Erickson, an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin last year, didn’t contribute a lot as a receiver. But, he did develop into one of the best kick returners in the NFL. The only wiggle-room the Bengals seem to have on their roster is at Wright’s spot. Although Wright is generally liked by the coaching staff, his inability to get onto the field, injury concern and lack of production when on-the-field suggest that a solid effort from another wide receiver could convince the team to part with him.
The Bengals’ confidence in their current wide receiver corps will determine whether or not they take Jones, or any receiver in this Draft. The fourth round seems a bit early to take a receiver who might not realistically rise any higher than No. 5 on the depth chart, or No. 4 in the unlikely event that Core regresses. That said, if the Bengals were impressed with him at the Senior Bowl, they could continue to monitor him during the pre-Draft process. He is (per Evil Monkey) former Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake’s nephew, after all, and the son of Cowboys 1992 first round pick Robert Jones.