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Zay Flowers Is Gaining More Separation Than Anyone in the League

WR Zay Flowers
WR Zay Flowers

Zay Flowers didn't watch much football growing up. It was in high school when he first started tuning in to primetime NFL games.

"I remember enjoying watching them and wanting to play in them," he said.

As Flowers prepares for his primetime debut Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, you can feel the eagerness bubbling up inside him.

Flowers has had a strong rookie season so far. He had at least 50 total yards in his first seven games, becoming just the second receiver since 1970 to accomplish that feat to start a career. Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase was the other.

Chase quickly became one of the NFL's top receivers and that has carried into his third season. When he got off to a slow start this year, Chase fumed to the media, saying, "I'm open. I'm always f------ open."

Flowers is making a case that he gets open just as much. According to Next Gen Stats, no wide receiver in the NFL (with a minimum of 20 targets) has gotten more separation versus man-to-man coverage than Flowers – 3.0 yards.

Flowers was routinely getting open against Browns cornerbacks last week and hauled in five of six targets for 73 yards.

"I pride myself on winning one-on-one matchups," Flowers said. "To get it and win and do what I do after I get the ball, that's what I pride myself on."

Cornerback Arthur Maulet, who jokingly jumped into an interview with Flowers, asked what his secret is to winning one-on-one.

"The secret? Just be quicker than everybody else," Flowers said with a laugh.

Over the course of the season, Flowers has been open (three or more yards of separation) on 55.9% of his targets, per Next Gen Stats. Lamar Jackson has had a tight window to throw to him (less than one yard of separation) only 5.9% of the time.

Despite that, Flowers is waiting for his "breakout" game. His season high came in his debut against the Houston Texans in Week 1, when he caught nine of 10 targets for 78 yards. He had to wait until Week 6, and a trip to London, to score his first touchdown and hasn't been back in the end zone since.

Surrounded by other playmakers, Flowers has seen the Ravens' most targets (68 to Mark Andrews' 59). He has nearly twice as many targets as any other Ravens wide receiver (Odell Beckham Jr. has 35). Yet it still feels like Flowers deserves more.

Perhaps it will come against the Bengals Thursday night, a team he beat with a 52-yard leaping grab in Week 2 – his longest catch of the year. Flowers had another big-play opportunity earlier in the game that Jackson overthrew. Jackson launched one too deep for him Sunday against the Browns, too.

Once they connect on the deep throws more often, Flowers may explode. Opponents seem to be trying to simply contain Flowers at this point, especially after he gets the ball. They're not aggressive in their pursuit, fearful that he could break their ankles with his "Joystick" cutbacks. The next step is beating them over the top.

"We've just got to make it happen," Flowers said. "You miss sometimes. You're not going to connect all the time. We've just got to keep building our connection and get it down."

The Bengals rank No. 10 in the league in the amount they use man-to-man coverage. Flowers should get some shots.

"I'm excited. I'm ready to play. This is my first one, so I want to see how it goes," Flowers said. "We've got on all-black [uniforms] too, so it should be fun."

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