For Buffalo Bills fans, it seems like an eternity since the team has enjoyed a reliable #1 receiver threat. Players such as Lee Evans, Stevie Johnson and Sammy Watkins have come and gone in Orchard Park, and the Bills have struggled to develop a legit air attack in recent years. By the middle of the 2018-2019 campaign, there were no clear signs that this conflict was nearing an end. After a 41-9 blowout from the Bears in week 9, no receiver on the roster had eclipsed the 300-yard mark for Buffalo. In week 10, however, the team saw an emergence from two young talents that ignited a spark in the offense.
Enter Zay Jones and Robert Foster.
For Bills Mafia, there are certainly expectations surrounding East Carolina’s Zay Jones and the role he will play in a re-building Buffalo offense. This will happen when you are the all-time leader in receptions in Division 1 football history. For Mr. Jones, however, there was very little execution in a rookie campaign where the Bills earned their first playoff birth of the 21st century. The former Pirate mustered up just 316 receiving yards despite playing in 15 games. His lack of production was a big reason the Bills were the NFL’s 31st ranked passing offense in 2017.
Thankfully for Zay—and the rest of Bills nation—the second-half of his sophomore campaign saw quite the upwards swing. In his last seven games, Jones found the end zone six times, while racking up four games of at least 67 receiving yards—a feat he had only accomplished once in his first 24 career games. Notably, all four of these efforts came against AFC East opponents.
*Cue happy Bills fans*
Robert Foster, on the other hand, has been an under-the-radar gem that Buffalo has utilized in their new air attack. Unless you’re an avid supporter of the Bills—or a fantasy football aficionado—there’s a solid chance you are hearing this name for the first time.
But why’s that?
Plagued by injuries during his time at Alabama, Foster was never able to showcase his skillset to the maximum potential. Due to this, the former 2nd ranked high school receiver never became a highly touted NFL prospect. However, due to shear athleticism and a bond with current Bills and former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, Foster was able to find a roster spot with the Bills. Like Zay Jones, Foster enjoyed a resurgence in the second half of the 2018 season. After producing just two receptions for 30 yards by week 9, the rookie starred in his final seven games, which included three 100-yard receiving efforts. Buffalo enjoyed a 3-0 record when Foster crossed the pylon, and the Mafia found the perfect lightning bolt complement to Josh Allen’s cannon arm.
So, who will be THE guy?
Better yet, WILL there be a guy in Buffalo next season?
It may sound crazy to preach to Bills Nation, but the chances look great for one of these young studs to step up as a solid top receiver threat in the upcoming season. Think about it, when was the last time the Bills were confident about having a legit franchise quarterback like Josh Allen? As Bills fans strap into the Sean McDermott–Brandon Beane project, a healthy Allen should progress and improve chemistry with Jones and Foster in the offseason.
Foster’s case is a bit harder to support for the top receiver. A majority of the yards gathered by Foster in the 2018 season came via the deep ball, which may not be sustainable moving forward. While Foster possesses over-the-top athleticism, he lacks experience and strong mid/short route running techniques, which could keep him from being the go-to guy in Buffalo’s offense. Still, the Bills should expect Foster to maintain his big-play ability that achieved an astounding 20.0 yards per catch in 2018, the most among any player with at least 25 receptions.
If you’re reading this Bills Mafia, I’m here to make a bold claim: Zay Jones will be the firm #1 threat in 2019 that Buffalo has needed.
With a higher skillset than all other Bills receivers—including elite agility, separation skills and footwork—Jones has all the tools to become a legit pass catcher moving forward. With 42 targets in his last five games (14 more than Foster), his connection with Josh Allen is obvious. Looking past just the numbers, Zay’s intangibles should lead fans to believe that the young threat’s best years are ahead of him. Buffalo will see these years very, very soon.
Ball’s in your court, Zay.