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Emergence of Duke Williams prompts Bills to trade Zay Jones

The Buffalo Bills did not take long to act on the emergence of Duke Williams in their receiving corps.

One day after Williams essentially displaced veteran Zay Jones from the lineup, the Bills traded Jones to the Oakland Raiders for a fifth-round draft choice in 2021. An NFL source confirmed the deal, which was first reported by ESPN.

The move ends a disappointing tenure of 36 games over two-plus seasons for Jones, who the Bills drafted 37th overall in 2017. The Bills moved up seven spots to get Jones, trading a third-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams and getting a fifth-rounder in return.

It will go down as a draft miss for coach Sean McDermott. However, the emergence of Williams might wind up compensating for it.

Williams, a 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pounder who the Bills signed out of the Canadian Football League, had a strong preseason and looked good in practice with the scout team the first month of the season. That earned him a promotion to the active roster on Saturday. Williams responded with a strong showing in the win over Tennessee on Sunday, catching the winning TD pass from 7 yards and making two other grabs.

Jones, still only 24, made minimal impact as a rookie in 2017, catching 27 passes for 316 yards. That kind of production isn’t uncommon for receivers, even those picked in the first or second round. After a turbulent and injury-plagued offseason, Jones played better in 2018, catching 56 passes for 652 yards and seven touchdowns.

Still, however, he was not an impact playmaker. While he may not have had any glaring weaknesses, he did not display any exceptional strengths. Jones averaged 11.6 yards per catch. Receiver Robert Foster averaged 20 yards on 27 catches last year, emerging late in the season as a more explosive threat for the Bills.

Jones is 6 feet, 2 inches and 200 pounds. Williams gives the Bills an element of size that the receiving corps was lacking. While Jones was a willing and capable blocker in the run game, Williams has shown just as much willingness and should be as capable in that area, given his greater size.

Now the challenge will be for the 26-year-old Williams to prove he can become a consistent playmaker. Williams played 51 snaps against the Titans, while Jones played just one snap.

Foster has missed the past two games with a groin injury. He averaged 20 snaps a game over the first three weeks but has yet to make a catch.

It now will be up to Foster to challenge Williams for snaps. The Bills’ top two receivers are speedy John Brown and slot receiver Cole Beasley.

A surplus of depth at receiver also made the trade easier to swing. The Bills have Isaiah McKenzie and Andre Roberts as part of their six-man wideout corps.

Jones this year had just seven catches for 69 yards, even though he played 58% of the snaps through the first four games.

The Raiders can use Jones because they are thin at receiver. In Sunday’s win over Chicago, Oakland was without three of its most experienced receivers due to injuries: Tyrell Williams (foot), J.J. Nelson (knee) and Dwayne Harris (ankle).

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