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2023 Detroit Lions roster preview: Will Marvin Jones stand out in a crowded WR room?

Marvin Jones is on a homecoming with Detroit, but with a different quarterback

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

After the departure of DJ Chark, who—in spite of an early injury—offered solid production in 2022, the Detroit Lions turned to a familiar face. After two years in Jacksonville, Detroit welcomed back Marvin Jones Jr., who had previously spent five years with the Lions. Originally brought in from Cincinnati in the wake of Calvin Johnson’s retirement, Jones is returning to a brand new quarterback, and one key similarity to his time in Jacksonville.

It’s been discussed at length the amount of receiving weapons the Lions have put around quarterback Jared Goff; Jones enters a crowded room, even at the WR-Z position. But Jones returns as a seasoned veteran at this point, used to playing with different cultures, quarterbacks and schemes; his production has yet to fall of even in his thirties.

We dive into Marvin Jones’ homecoming in this Detroit Lions roster preview series.

Previous roster previews: Aidan Hutchinson, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Kerby Joseph, James Mitchell, Malcolm Rodriguez, James Houston, Chase Lucas, Obinna Eze, Greg Bell, Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Derrick Barnes, Jermar Jefferson, Brock Wright, Jerry Jacobs, Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, David Montgomery, Graham Glasgow, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Marvin Jones, Jr.

Actual role in 2022 (with Jaguars)

16 games (10 starts): 674 offensive snaps
Stats: 46 receptions (81 targets), 529 yards, 3 touchdowns
PFF offensive grade: 59.8 (79th out of 84 WRs with at least 50 targets)
PFF receiving grade: 60.0 (79th)

Jones, in his own words, survived the pain of Urban Meyer and was graced with an actual NFL coach in Doug Pederson in 2022.

In his second year with Jacksonville, Jones played a particularly new role: the “veteran leadership” role of the receiver room. He saw a reduction in offensive snaps, down from 917 (90 percent of all Jaguars offensive snaps) in 2021, but this had less to do with his production that season as much as it did with Jacksonville overhauling their roster with new weapons like Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram. The majority of this decrease came in slot usage, as the Jaguars turned to other receiving options inside.

Nevertheless, Jones remained the dependable weapon for Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, his 11.5 average yards per reception slightly improving upon his 2021 numbers. Jones continued in his role as the senior weapon for Lawrence, the big body who could cut over the middle and haul in high passes for crucial conversions on down and in the red zone. None of this was more emblematic of Jones than his tip-toe snatch along the endzone sideline in the dying seconds against the Ravens, giving the Jaguars the chance to take the lead on a two-point conversion.

Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson called Jones the “go-to guy” for Lawrence in many situations. With less need for Jones in the slot, his role shifted primarily to the outside, but his route still came back over the middle often. He was found his best efficiency in slant and crossing routes, plying his trade over the middle as Lawrence worked through his progressions; or playing the hitch and comeback on quick releases.

There’s no one thing that stands out extraordinarily about Jones. He has good size, he has decent speed and he can make some shifty moves. He’s a jack of all trades in his tools, but nothing in particular shines excellent; he stood as a suitable 1b/2 receiver for Jacksonville.

Outlook for 2023

At first glance, Jones was the easy free agency pickup to replace DJ Chark. However, it would be an error to believe he will simply be a 1-to-1 replacement for Chark on the roster. He has far less of the deep threat, home run power that Chark delivered late in the 2022 season for Detroit.

Even in his mid-thirties, he doesn’t look to be slowing down. “I think that’s one thing that people can take away from me,” Jones said, “is like, ‘hey, jeesh, this guy is how old or he’s been in the league for this long?’ And I’m still taking off. I’m still doing the same things that I need to do for me to be great. In the past, and I think my whole career has rubbed off on a lot of receivers or players, generally speaking on the team...I’m still going to move like I always do.”

Jones moves from one crowded receiver room with the Jaguars to another in his return to the Lions. While the early season absence of Jameson Williams benefits Jones, he will still have to compete for targets against Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta, among others. With such a crowded group of interior weapons, Jones can expect to find work as the Z receiver on the outside, competing with Kalif Raymond and—when he returns from suspension—Williams.

“The culture’s different,” Marvin Jones said about his return to Detroit. “The coaches, everything. It’s not the same.”

Indeed, the biggest change Jones will have to adapt to is the quarterback. Jared Goff is a very different quarterback than Matthew Stafford, and he’s not a young buck like Lawrence. While they do share a college, it was a missed connection (Jones is on record that he wishes he had Goff as his quarterback with Cal). The Goff-Jones hookup is on the menu now, and it should be a key item to keep an eye on as training camp gets underway.

As for the question of leadership, it often get tossed around for an aging player, but it seems to be a truism for Jones.

“He just understands the game,” said Lions receiver coach Antwaan Randle El. “So I can be talking about a certain route, as it relates to the way we need to run it, what it needs to look like. I’ll explain it and one of the guys will be like, ‘Woah, why can’t we do it like this?’ Before I even get it out, Marvin is kind of like, ‘This is what coach is trying to get you to understand.’ So he helps a ton in the room, just because he’s been in it, he’s played in it and that certainly helps the young guys.”

While it’s unlikely that Jones will ever see the peaks of his career as in his first stint with Detroit—it would take some great effort to have another 205 yard, 2 touchdown game like in 2016—he should be an easy set for the 53-man roster. After that, his workload will be a question of what the Lions prioritize. While Jones fits a role for a steady jack-of-all-trades outside receiver, the Lions have many mouths to feed and rookies to bring up to speed.

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