<
>

Zay Jones, Nelson Agholor elevating into bigger roles as Raiders receivers

Zay Jones is looking to emerge in his first full season with the Raiders. Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, Pool

HENDERSON, Nev. -- And for Zay Jones' next trick ...

Sure, Jones is known for his David Blaine-like levitation act as he picks himself up from the field after being tackled. But Jones rising, and taking veteran Nelson Agholor with him, into a key receiver role with the Las Vegas Raiders might be more impressive. A sleight of hand worthy of headlining on the Las Vegas Strip.

It is also needed with Tyrell Williams on injured reserve with a torn labrum in a shoulder.

"Could not be more proud of Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones," Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said when asked about the depth of the receiver corps.

"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. It starts with those two guys and you say, 'Wow.'"

And then some.

First-round pick Henry Ruggs III's speed is jaw-dropping. Hunter Renfrow's route-running is precise. And Bryan Edwards' physicality is impressive for a rookie.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jones brings some experience in coach Jon Gruden's system, as he joined the Raiders last October in a trade with the Buffalo Bills for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 draft. Jones hopes that familiarity translates into more trust with quarterback Derek Carr, which is why Jones made it a point to join Carr and teammates for workouts in Las Vegas this summer.

"It was different from last year, transitioning into a team [and] not really knowing anybody," said Jones, who caught 20 passes for 147 yards in seven games for the Raiders.

"Those are conversations that you would usually have in the offseason [that] didn't take place for me, so I was kind of playing catch up with the team all last year. This summer was very important for me just to get around the guys, especially get around him and understand [Carr's] language, the way he talks. Just building a genuine relationship with him even outside of football, because the football stuff is going to take care of itself."

In the 6-foot, 198-pound Agholor, who signed a one-year free-agent deal worth just over $1.04 million on March 25, the Raiders got a guy with 224 career catches for 2,515 yards and 18 TDs in 71 games (62 starts) over five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

And Gruden got a familiar face, as he has known Agholor since he was in high school.

"He actually used to hang around after his days coaching in Tampa ... and he would always go to a racetrack near his home, and my brother worked at that racetrack," Agholor said. "So, him and my brother spent a lot of time talking every morning, when Jon was getting his coffee, about football and about my college career and things like that. So, it's a blessing to be in this opportunity and having a previous relationship. But at the end of the day, I chose this relationship because he knows the game and all I want to do is learn and be a better player.

"He has a Rolodex of information of whether it be route cutups, situational, on-the-run decision making, and he doesn't hesitate to, right off the bat, coach you. Because you can hear one thing and something else pops up and he’ll tell you, 'This is what you do! This is what you do!' He doesn't hesitate to coach you later. As he sees it the same way you see it, right off the fly you run a play and he's expecting you to think like how he thinks. And every day he's communicating that and I think that's a beautiful thing."

Jones and Agholor filling a hole created by Williams' injury would be a beautiful thing for the Raiders, indeed.

Especially with Carr and the Las Vegas offense expected to take another step forward.

"We can see a huge difference in Zay from last year to this year [and] I'm proud of the way he came to camp," Mayock said. "Nelson Agholor ... I had a pretty good grade on him coming out of USC. I think I know what Nelly is and I think we're seeing the best version of Nelly in this camp.

"The thing I like about our veterans, they're grown men. They're not giving up jobs easily. Trust me. Tyrell is down for whatever period of time, but I think the rest of the guys see it as an opportunity."