Tight end Jesse James was a free-agent flop for the Detroit Lions last season. Can he become a steady contributor in 2020?
It looked great on paper for the Detroit Lions entering the 2019 season. A flashy top ten draft pick who could be eased into a tricky position with the help of an experienced, dependable veteran. Umm…what happened?
The Lions looked to be in good shape prior to last season’s opener in the tight end room, with veteran Jesse James coming aboard to help solidify the group while heralded rookie T.J. Hockenson adjusted to a position known to be harsh on rookies. It didn’t go as planned.
Hockenson showed flashes of brilliance along with the standard rookie speed bumps before being shelved with an ankle injury in November. James though scuffled through a forgettable season after being signed to a four-year contract last March as the then-top tight end on the free-agent market.
James never looked comfortable in the Lions’ offense, struggling to get open and failing to maximize his 6-7 frame as a red zone threat. He was also ineffective as a blocker, often left completely overmatched when asked to deal with powerful edge rushers, and doing little to help spring his running backs for big gains on the ground.
He finished with only 16 receptions for 142 yards, easily his lowest totals since his rookie season in 2015. He did not score a touchdown, as the Lions often looked towards other options in the end zone, and he struggled to develop chemistry with any of the three quarterbacks who took snaps for Detroit during the regular season.
James isn’t going anywhere in 2020, as cutting him would incur a dead cap number of over $8 million, according to Sportrac. Additionally, the rest of the tight ends currently on the roster have 34 collective receptions, 32 of them by Hockenson, leaving a serious experience gap in the unit.
As the tight end spot continues to evolve in the NFL, players like Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, George Kittle of the San Francisco 49ers, and Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens currently rank as some of the most dangerous offensive threats in the league. As these three stars have demonstrated, you can be an elite team with just one highly productive tight end on your roster; none of the aforementioned players have notable receiving threats behind them on their roster at the position.
As such, should Hockenson stay healthy and make the coveted second-year tight end jump in 2020, the pressure on James will subside somewhat. Still, a season from James bearing any resemblance to that of 2019 would be a major disappointment and would be a strike against a Lions regime that is running out of them.
What are your expectations for Jesse James in the 2020 season? Let us know in the comments section below.