Wide receiver TJ Jones is coming off the finest season of his young career. The former sixth-round pick out of Notre Dame caught 30 passes for 399 yards (13.3 average) and a touchdown in 14 games.
In his previous two seasons, Jones, who's been primarily used as a depth player, caught 15 passes total.
He made some important receptions as Detroit's No. 4 receiver last year, right up until the team was forced to place him on IR with a shoulder injury he suffered Week 15 vs. Chicago. Jones caught a touchdown in that Bears game before being injured trying to make a tackle on a fourth-quarter punt return.
His best game last season came in a loss to Pittsburgh, when he recorded three catches of 20-plus yards and finished the contest with four catches and 88 receiving yards.
Jones was still working his way back to 100 percent health during OTAs and minicamp, but he's expected to be full go at training camp. He's ready to build on some of the successes we saw from him last season.
"I'm trying to use (last season) as a stepping stone to get better and to make sure I'm not harping on last season," Jones said. "Not think that because there was some level of success last year that I can bank on it happening this year without doing anything extra or wanting to succeed."
What makes Jones valuable for the Lions' offense is his ability to be a plug-and-play player. What that means is Jones can play all four receiver spots both outside and in the slot, and does all of them equally well. When Kenny Golladay missed five games in the middle of the season due to a hamstring injury, Jones stepped in and caught 15 passes over that stretch.
"TJ Jones ... really smart player," head coach Matt Patricia said. "A guy that can kind of play multiple positions for us and line up in different looks. So, from that standpoint when you start talking about your different roster spots, and positions, where a guy can really cover a lot of different areas."
Jones, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. and Golladay were Detroit's leading receivers last season, and they're all back this year. Their return, along with the return of quarterback Matthew Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, has set the bar high for a Lions passing attack that finished sixth in the NFL last season.
TJ Jones might have been the fourth receiver on this team last season, but his role as a do-everything playmaker who's also good on special teams, can't just be glossed over. He was re-signed this offseason as a restricted free agent because players like him are extremely important due to their versatility and experience.
"He can do a lot of different things for you and do it at a high level," Patricia said. "Plus, you know, I think he's a guy that's really competitive. He's a good, young player that can go out and compete and hopefully help us. So, you're always trying to bring those guys back, as many as you can."