HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Las Vegas wide receiver Zay Jones has become known for a levitating move that brings him to his feet after a reception, a highlight reel-quality feat that has mystified fans and teammates during the first four years of his career.
After an impressive showing during training camp, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound wideout is hoping his next trick will be floating into the Raiders' deep receiving rotation.
“The competition level is high,” Jones said Wednesday after practice. “I love this group. I think this group is very diverse. Guys who bring a lot to the table. We got guys who can do a lot of things. There’s not a dull moment in the receiver room. Guys are competing, guys are making plays, guys are making crazy grabs and it’s just encouraging to see. It motivates me to be better and to be a leader for this group.”
Acquired from Buffalo in exchange for 2021 fifth-round draft choice, Jones joined the Raiders last October. He appeared in 15 games with nine starts between both teams, finishing with 20 catches for 147 yards after landing in Oakland.
Yet with the likes of Tyrell Williams, Henry Ruggs III, Nelson Agholor, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow and Marcell Ateman in the mix, it’s conceivable Jones was on the bubble before training camp began.
After a strong showing the past few weeks, and with Williams suffering a torn labrum in his shoulder that he will try to play through, Jones has emerged as a bright spot in what may be the Raiders’ best receiving corps since 2016, when Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree led the group.
“We can see a huge difference in Zay from last year to this year,” general manager Mike Mayock said. “I’m proud of the way he came to camp. Nelson Agholor is on a mission, and Zay Jones is also. They’re in as good of shape as any two players we have on the team. Their route running for both of them has improved. Their concentration has been outstanding, and I think our coaches have a plan for those guys.”
The work began earlier this year, when Jones settled into Las Vegas looking to become comfortable in his new surroundings while working with quarterback Derek Carr and establishing a relationship with several others over the summer.
Jones, who has 110 receptions for 1,184 yards and nine touchdowns during his career, said it was critical to commit during the offseason after struggling with the midseason transition last year and never getting a chance to build a bond with the Raiders.
“I was playing catch up with the team all last year,” Jones said. “This summer was very important for me, just to get around the guys, especially get around (Carr). Understand his language, the way he talks. Just build a genuine relationship with him, even outside of football because the football stuff was going to take care of itself. Building a bond and relationship with those guys and enjoying them and getting to know them. Those are guys you’re going into battle with during the season.”
Jones trimmed down in order to be more fluid and provide speed within the receiving corps, something he knew first-round pick Ruggs would bring immediately. He also wanted to master the playbook.
“When you come into the middle of a season and you’re trying to learn someone’s playbook, there’s small details that you may miss,” Jones said. “Once you get the flow of it and once you build that relationship with your quarterback and you start to understand the verbiage in it, things begin to slow down.
“Now I can practice these routes at full speed without hesitation because I know what I’m doing. Now I can put my own flavor on things. Now I can add a little bit to the route. ... With time, it just naturally developed. I feel more confident. This is one of the most confident times that I’ve had in the NFL.”