Zay Jones’ NFL draft experience can best be summed up in a musical lyric from Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.
“You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime you just might find, you get what you need.”
The record-setting East Carolina wide receiver dearly wanted to be a first-round pick, just like his school Hall of Fame dad Robert Jones was with the Dallas Cowboys back in 1992. And for awhile it looked like it might happen when an early run on pass catchers made Jones the best available player at his position on the board.
Even the Buffalo Bills, a team in desperate need of a complement to star Sammy Watkins and whose wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan spent the past year mentoring Jones in Greenville, took a pass — so to speak — by selecting LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White.
But the disappointment of not becoming ECU’s third first round pick Thursday night didn’t last long.
Almost as soon as the draft reconvened in Philadelphia on Friday, the Bills made a deal with the Los Angeles Rams that allowed them to jump up to the fifth pick of the second round. Fearing that the Carolina Panthers might scoop up the all-time FBS leader in receptions three picks later — a landing spot that would have been equally attractive — Buffalo made Jones the 37th player selected.
“We looked at it [Thursday] night when we broke and the ice was getting awful thin, really, at the wide receiver position in general,” Bills head coach Sean McDermott said in a teleconference shortly after taking Jones. “There weren’t quite as many wide receivers, a few of them went early, and then there weren’t many around at this level and we valued Zay. We felt that we wanted to go get him and made sure we got our guy.”
Jones broke the FBS single-season record for receptions last year by catching 158 passes for ECU. He also owns the FBS career mark with 399 grabs.
McDermott said those numbers made it difficult for his team to overlook the 6-foot-2, 193-pound receiver. The coach said he and his staff were also impressed by Jones’ steady off-the-field demeanor and pedigree — his father played 10 seasons in the NFL and was a part of a Dallas team that beat the Bills in the Super Bowl.
But what made the younger Jones most attractive to the Bills is his ability to play both inside and outside, a versatility that will give opposing defenses something to think about on every play instead of concentrating as much as they have in the past on deep threat Watkins.
“When you look at his position flexibility, he can move inside, he can play outside and that was also a big part of it as well,” McDermott said. “You’re not just talking about a guy that can play one position, so he does have position-flex. That said, as a young player, we’ve got to progress him at the right pace. He’s going to come in and learn the system then go from there and I’m sure he’s already on the phone with Phil at this point.”
“Phil” is former ECU receivers coach McGeoghan, a former NFL receiver who left the Pirates after last season to return to the professional ranks.
As good as Jones was during his first three college seasons, he credits McGeoghan and head coach Scottie Montgomery — also a former NFL receiver — for providing him with the guidance that catapulted him into a Biletnikoff Award finalist.
And now a second-round NFL draftee.
“I would say Coach McGeoghan really got me pro ready when it came to this last year,” Jones said Friday. “He introduced me to the entire route tree and just different things and it has really helped develop my game becoming a complete wide receiver. So a lot of credit to thank him for the things he has done for me and I am only going to get better going up north.
“[He’s] just a great mentor. [He] reminds me a lot of my father the things, the ways he teaches, the way that he commands the room. I have a lot of respect for him.”
It’s a mutual respect that both student and teacher got to express to one another back in February, when Jones and McGeoghan ran into one another at the NFL’s pre-draft Combine in Indianapolis.
It was just a brief encounter, barely long enough to say hello. But it’s a conversation that turned out to be quite prophetic.
“He said if he got the opportunity to coach me again that he would love it,” Jones recalled. “I told him if I could play for him again I would love it.”
As far-fetched as the possibility might have seemed at the time, it’s actually become a reality — proving that sometimes in addition to getting what you need, you can also get exactly what you want.