TJ Jones: The Lions next try at Kick Returner


TJ Jones was one of the few surprises on the Detroit Lions 53 man roster this season. He beat out Jeremy Ross for the 5th wide receiver spot and took his role as a punt and kick returner. He will do most of his damage on special teams, but showed some efficient route running in his limited preseason action. He should challenge Corey Fuller for snaps and gives the Lions some needed depth at the wide receiver position.

Pass Catching

TJ Jones didn’t have many targets this preseason, but he made the most out of his opportunities. He finished with 5 receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown. He has a knack for creating big plays and posses great vision after the catch. He is mostly a slot receiver and will serve as Golden Tate’s backup but could play outside receiver if the team needs him too.

He is a good route runner and can turn underneath routes into big plays with his speed and vision. He can make defenders miss and should see some targets this season on wide receiver screens and underneath passes.

The Lions will most likely only dress four wide receivers this year so he will be in the rotation all season long with Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, and Corey Fuller. With how much the Lions like to mix and match personnel, he will see a significant amount of snaps throughout the season and can’t be just a special team weapon.

Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

TJ made a couple impressive plays in the last preseason game against Buffalo. On the play above he is mugged at the line of scrimmage and has to fight to get a clean release. He attacks the defensive backs technique immediately and doesn’t allow him to slow down his route. After he beats the corners press coverage he breaks over the middle of the field and tries to locate the ball.

He does a very good job closing on the ball, notice the instant separation he creates on the defensive back as soon as he sees the ball coming towards him. He then secures the ball for a first down completion. All together its a very solid play that most likely should of been flagged for pass interference as well.

The next play shows off TJ Jones big play ability. He creates instant separation at the line of scrimmage when he explodes of his inside break. He shows off his impressive burst and shoots through the middle of the defense when the safety bites hard on the flat route. T.J. has the necessary long speed to finish the play and the end result is a touchdown.

TJ made a couple of catches where he showed some solid football intelligence and came back to the ball on extended plays for easy completions this preseason. He has also shown the ability to be an effective check down receiver and will help take some pressure off of Matthew Stafford. Still he has a lot to prove and wasn’t targeted much in the Lions passing game this preseason, he only had 7 targets on 54 pass plays. He had a high catch rate and didn’t make any glaring mistakes in the preseason but will need to prove he can get open on a more consistent basis.

Punt/Kick Returning

Jones will make most of his impact as the Lions starting kick and punt returner. He will receive more touches than the third wide receiver throughout the season and is an important part of the Lions offense. Giving him the starting punt return job makes perfect sense, he was by far the best punt returner this preseason and had an impressive training camp as well.

It was however, somewhat weird the Lions made him the starting kick returner without giving him a single rep as a kick returner in the preseason. Either the team has seen enough from him in practice to trust him with this role or they are using the team depth chart as a decoy to hide their true kick returner.

Above is one of TJ Jones better punt returns of the preseason. He does a very good job reading his blockers and finding the biggest crease in the defense. He then makes two defenders miss on arm tackles and cuts downfield for a solid gain. He displays the post catch vision and elusiveness that made him the starting punt returner on this play and shows how valuable an effective punt returner can be. He sets the Lions up in great field position and flips the field position on the Jets negating a big punt.

Again, Jones didn’t have a ton of reps as a punt returner but he made the most of the opportunities he got. He had his best game against the Bills and plays like the one above definitely factored into the coaches decisions. He shows off his impressive footwork and creates his own hole with a sharp in cut. He then hurdles the next defender with as little vertical movement as possible which allowed him to get his feet under him quickly.

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This allows him to drive through contact when he is finally tackled and gain some valuable extra yardage. This is a play that most punt returners break for a short gain, they just can’t create and find their own holes like T.J. does on this play. It’s a high level return and a great sign for the future.

All around, Jones had a very successful preseason, he proved he can be an effective receiver and that he was the best option at punt/kick returner. He has a bright future with the team and is the second starter Martin Mayhew has found from Notre Dame in the 6th round of the draft(The other being Theo Riddick). He adds to the depth at the receiver position and could eventually take Corey Fullers spot as the third wide receiver if he continues to be ineffective.

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