PHOENIX – Two things stuck out right away when Lions head coach Matt Patricia was evaluating new tight end Jesse James. 1. James' toughness playing in-line. 2. James' catch radius with his 6-foot-7 frame.
In the end, he and general manager Bob Quinn saw James as a fit in Detroit, as they attempt to revamp the tight end position. They're both expecting James to play a big role in some crucial situations.
"He's a young player," Patricia said of James Tuesday at the Annual League Meetings. "Works really hard. He's tough. I played against him for a lot of years. Love his grit, love his grind and love the way he kind of attacks the game.
"We know he can do things in the run game. The beauty about it is he's a big target. This guy has a big catch radius. He's long and he can catch the ball."
Over the last three seasons, James recorded 112 receptions for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns, but it was veteran Vance McDonald that took most of the third down and red zone snaps in Pittsburgh. James could have more of a role in that regard in Detroit.
"We're excited about that possibility," Patricia said.
James was also excited about the potential to be a key piece in the passing game at his introductory press conference.
"Offensively, I wasn't used (in Pittsburgh) the way I feel I could be used here," he said. "I feel like my ceiling here is going to be much higher than it was in the past.
"I think coach Bevell does a great job of using his personnel the best way they can be. I'm just looking forward to the process."
James logged a career-high 423 receiving yards and averaged 14.1 yards per reception with a 76.9 percent catch rate last season. He's also a solid pass blocker, who can help seal the edge against good pass rushers.
The Lions ranked just 25th in the NFL last season converting on third down (36.1 percent), and they were 24th in red-zone touchdown percentage, scoring a touchdown just over half the time (53.1). The Lions think James can help in those two areas.
"Another versatile guy that can block, he can catch, he can run routes," Quinn said of James on Monday. "Another tall target. The more length at that position the bigger catch radius the bigger red-zone threat and that's something we tried to improve on.
"Tight end was not a real strong position for us last year, as we all talked about after the season, and this is one area we wanted to improve on and Jesse was a guy we kind of honed in on early in the process."