Two years in a row the Lions have drafted a WR in the 6th round. Last year, they selected Corey Fuller with the 171st overall pick, and placed him on the practice squad for the year. With the 189th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Lions selected TJ Jones out of Notre Dame. I decided to take a closer look at Jones because I didn't really know a whole lot about him going into the draft, but now he's become one of my favorites from this draft class. Unlike Fuller, Jones is not a very raw prospect, and I strongly believe he will find a place on the 53-man roster come August. At ND he spent time as an outside receiver, slot receiver, punt returner, and even carried the ball out of the backfield a little. If Jones doesn't emerge as a weapon for Stafford right away, it's probable that he would earn a spot as a special teams player.
After the draft, I went to DraftBreakdown to check out some game tape on Jones, but there wasn't really much to see, as they only had about 3 games posted. So instead, I just decided to look for full game footage on ND last year, and ended up charting nearly every snap Jones was involved on. I managed to chart every catch but not every snap, since I was unable to find games vs. MSU and Navy. So the snap % and drop % statistics will be incomplete, but you'll get a good sense of where he lined up and how good his hands are regardless.
Where Did He Line Up?
It was pretty obvious going into the draft that the Lions needed some major help at the WR position. They signed Golden Tate in the offseason, but after Megatron and Tate there isn't a whole lot of depth there. With Broyles' injury concerns, there was an immediate need for a slot WR. They drafted Ebron in the first round to handle most of the snaps as a slot WR, but TJ Jones seems to fit that mold as well. However, as you can see in the chart above, he only lined up in the slot about 33% of the time for the Irish offense. This has a lot to do with the fact that they consistently ran two TE sets and had Jones off to the far side of the field or off the field on run plays. He did have a lot of success as both an outside and slot receiver though, and caught plenty of balls from sideline to sideline.
Where Did He Catch the Ball?
(Thanks to Dave Mangels over at BleedingGreenNation for the blank football field template)
As you can (sort of) see from the charts above, Jones caught the ball all over the place and on a variety of different routes for the Irish last year. Each catch is where the ball was caught from the LOS. So naturally, all of the screens are behind the LOS, your go/fade routes will be further down the field, and your comeback routes will be between 5-15 yards for the most part. You may be saying to yourself, well what is the significance of this? Well.... I don't know, but it looks cool, and I wanted to experiment a little bit with Google Docs. It's also nice to see that Jones was able to use the full route tree consistently. You would be surprised when looking at some of the top prospects' receiving charts. For instance, let's take a look at Mike Evans' chart last year:
Mike Evans receiving maps (with TD totals formula:)) pic.twitter.com/DutvE5Wrhu— John Pollard (@JPSTATS) May 7, 2014
Evans was only targeted FOUR times on the left side of the field last year, and caught two of those passes. That's pretty insane.
Jones also averaged 10.57 yards per catch from the LOS, and 5.22 yards after the catch. Not bad when you consider that Brandin Cooks averaged 8.40 yards from LOS and 5.29 YAC.
If you check out Jones' measurables, they aren't overly impressive, but there are some things that jump out at you. For instance, his hands are 10". That's massive for a 6'0 WR. He has good but not great speed, and good short area quickness as well.
How Are His Hands?
By my count, Jones only dropped 4 passes for the Irish last year on about 71 catchable passes (5.63%). Again, this data is incomplete as I was not able to chart the incomplete passes from games vs. MSU and Navy, but it still gives you a good idea of how sure-handed of a receiver Jones is. He put up a better drop% than guys like OBJ, Jordan Matthews, Kelvin Benjamin and Marqise Lee last year. He was targeted 109 times on the season and caught 70 balls last year for a 64.2% catch rate.
Was asked about drop rates for some WRs I hadn't published, here's a full list of every WR I charted this year pic.twitter.com/7l3e1Q8e10— Greg Peshek (@NU_Gap) April 23, 2014
Here you'll see Jones catch a very poorly thrown ball behind him in the rain on the most important drive of the game. Jones is a guy who can line up wherever you want him to and will be a very reliable option. I see him as a faster and more versatile Jason Avant.
Jones wasn't used as a RB a whole lot, but he actually showed some promise in the backfield for the limited amount of snaps he received towards the end of the year.
When you see WRs attempting to run, you often see them try to immediately sprint to the outside instead of finding a hole or following blockers. Against Pitt, Jones showed great patience in the run game on multiple plays. In this play, you see Jones motion into the backfield and break out for a huge run because he waited until a lane opened up, and busted through it. Later in the game, he recorded his first rushing TD of his career on a 1-yard goal line rush by running to the outside and patiently waiting until he found an opening to cut in for the score.
Jones could also serve as a punt returner if Ross suffers an injury. Or perhaps he could end up challenging Ross for the starter role since he brings more to the table than just being a returner unlike Ross. Jones only started returning punts in his final year with the Irish though, so that may be a long shot for him.
Best Case Scenario
Jones will have an outstanding camp and will have no problem making the 53-man roster. He is a smart kid who will learn the playbook rather fast, and could compete with guys like Durham and Broyles for the #3 or #4 WR spot. He could turn into what the Lions originally thought Broyles could be for them. Don't be surprised to see him in on special packages involving him running the ball, whether it be on a reverse or out of the backfield. If Jeremy Ross were to get cut due to his limited skillset, Jones could provide some help as a returner as well.
Worst Case Scenario
If Jones cannot crack the 53-man roster, he would likely spend a year on the practice squad to fully learn their new playbook and also improve his skillset. If he ends up being a jack of all trades, but master of none type player, then we might hear something similar to this:
It would have been better to figure out exactly what his role in the offense was, and exactly how we were going to utilize him, and exactly what we were going to do with him," Mayhew said. "The thing that I think hindered that, at least from my standpoint -- it's on me, really -- was his versatility. He can do so many different things, I just figured, 'We'll figure out what to do with him.' And we never really figured out what to do with him.
-Mayhew on Mike Thomas viaMLive