To get to know Detroit Lions sixth-round pick TJ Jones, a wide receiver from Notre Dame, I sent five questions to Eric Murtaugh from One Foot Down, SB Nation's Fighting Irish blog. Here's a look at what he had to say about Jones:
1. At least initially, the Lions are seemingly planning on playing Jones in the slot. How was he used in Notre Dame's offense?
Jones was thought to be the perfect fit for the slot position when he arrived at Notre Dame in 2010. However, he started out on the outside and pretty much stayed there for his entire career. For the bulk of his career, Notre Dame ran a lot of two tight end sets, which took a slot receiver off the field, and when Jones was an upperclassman he wasn't going to be that receiver taking plays off. So he was being asked to do a lot of things that someone a few inches taller would do on the outside.
Towards the middle of last season the Irish did get more aggressive and motioned Jones into the backfield often and gave him some carries. It was something Notre Dame fans had wished happened from the beginning of the season because TJ was pretty effective (9 carries, 67 yards, 2 TD) in his limited amount of carries. Otherwise, Jones made most of his living working the sidelines heavily and making tough catches on the perimeter of the defense.
2. The Lions don't necessarily have a need at returner right now, but Jones did return punts in 2013. How would you rate his performance in that role?
That's a tough question to answer. One the one hand, with the spread punting rules in college, it's become really hard to return the ball and it's difficult to judge someone back there. For example, Jones only returned 14 punts all season long, or just about once a game. While he didn't set the world on fire (106 yards total), he was much better than the previous returner (46 yards on 21 returns; no, that's not a typo) and did some nice things back there.
If you're asking me if he has the skill set to be a punt returner in the NFL, I'm torn, but I'd probably lean towards it not happening. He offers really good quickness and speed. He's a lot tougher than his size too. I'm just not sure he has the hip fluidity and ability to make professionals miss on a consistent basis.
3. The Lions have highlighted speed and sure-handedness as two qualities they look for in receivers. In other words, they want guys who are quick and won't drop many passes. Does Jones fit that criteria?
That pretty much sums up TJ Jones. He's incredibly sure-handed and it was amazing to watch him go up and get balls and snatch them away from defenders for someone his size. If he had drops they were very rare, and remember he wasn't exactly playing with the most talented quarterback either. Jones was targeted 109 times in 2013 and ended up catching 70 balls, so his catch rate was pretty solid with the bulk of those incompletions being uncatchable. In contrast, the other starting receiver caught 21 fewer passes on 2 extra targets.
4. What one play from Jones' career at Notre Dame best exemplifies his abilities as a wide receiver?
I'd probably have to go with his sliding, reaching-back touchdown catch against Stanford in the rain during the 2012 season. Tommy Rees had to come in on relief for an injured Everett Golson. It was the first drive of overtime and Rees looked to Jones on a quick slant. In the driving rain, the ball fluttered and was poorly thrown. Somehow, Jones was able to reach back and grab the ball without letting it hit the ground, all while barely sliding into the end zone for the touchdown. The Irish would put up an epic goal-line stand on the next series to win the game.
5. What kind of person are the Lions getting in Jones off the field?
By all accounts TJ is a great person. He was pretty quiet as an underclassman but really seemed to come into his own towards the end of his sophomore season. Unfortunately, his father passed away prior to the start of the 2012 season, and that really tested him mentally. He even let a ball bounce off his helmet in the '12 home opener, leading to an interception, which sort of showed that his head wasn't in the right place. He still did a lot of good things as a junior, but he was really challenged during that time.
The fact that he was named one of the captains last year speaks volumes to the respect he had from his teammates. There may be a little bit of quirkiness in his personality -- that's nothing new for many ND athletes -- but as far as I know he's a really great young man.