Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer 17d

Marvin Jones in midst of breakout receiving season Lions need

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After Detroit Lions receiver Marvin Jones caught his first touchdown of the season Monday night, and after he held onto the ball throughout his team's "Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots" celebration, he did something he rarely does. He gave the ball up.

Jones keeps all his NFL touchdowns -- regular season, playoffs and even the six he has caught in preseason games. They mean something to him. The big games he's had in the past, those often blur into his memory. But those touchdown balls -- those matter.

Except Monday night, when he caught Matthew Stafford's 200th career touchdown pass. That one, he said, he'll be willing to let go.

"Oh no, it's his. It's definitely his," Jones said of giving the ball to Stafford. "But I hold on to all of 'em. I pretty much have every touchdown I've ever scored, even including the preseason for all five years. So yeah, that's definitely his."

That's 30 touchdowns in all, including those from the games that don't count. Jones has always been a touchdown threat. But this season, with Stafford as his quarterback for the second straight year, he's showing something else. He's starting to look like the player Detroit invested in with a four-year contract during the 2016 offseason to potentially be the No. 1 receiver.

Jones has become a big-play-making, touchdown-catching, creating-space-when-there's-not, red zone-threat receiver. Halfway through this season, Jones has 33 catches for 515 yards and five touchdowns -- all numbers that, projected over a full season, would equal or surpass career highs.

It would make him a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time -- something the Lions hoped for and Jones expected all along.

"Obviously, I want to be the guy that makes the plays, make all the plays I need to help this team," Jones said. "In our room, that's what we all want to be, and we're all doing that right now. It's just great to be a part of it, and we just have more work to do."

It wasn't always like this, though.

Jones struggled last year. After his breakout game in Green Bay last season -- 205 yards, two touchdowns -- he looked like a steal of a signing for the Lions from Cincinnati. Then, he faltered over the next two months. Couldn't find rhythm. Couldn't get off the line of scrimmage. It bothered him enough that, even though he had one of the best statistical seasons of his career -- 55 catches, 930 yards -- he sat in the locker room after Detroit's playoff loss to Seattle and lamented a season that, to his standards, "wasn't good at all."

It motivated him to make changes, including briefly working out with Randy Moss this offseason, the same potential Hall of Famer who was part of the ESPN crew Monday night watching Jones extend and contort himself into his seven catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns.

Jones looks like a transformed player, one more comfortable in everything he's doing -- from the balls he's receiving from Stafford to his own ability in the air. Everything appears smoother, more confident. If the Lions can get that Jones the rest of the season, Detroit's offense has a chance to be special.

"I think it's another year in the offense, another year in the system, another year with these teammates, coaches and it's a comfort level that he's developing, that he's developed," Lions receiver TJ Jones said. "I think he came into this season feeling a lot different than being the new guy on the block, you know, maybe having some weight on his shoulders wanting to prove himself.

"Whereas this year, now it's back to playing football, strictly football, having fun, making plays and really just being out there with your guys."

Having Jones as an effective part of the offense, particularly as a deep threat who trusts his hands and his innate ability to know when a ball is coming to help throw off defensive backs, enhances what Detroit can do.

It gives Stafford the big-play, deeper target he lost when Calvin Johnson retired and when Kenny Golladay was hobbled with a hamstring injury. It gives Stafford a player he can rely on. As much as Stafford can throw Jones open, Jones can do enough once he's in a route to create the sliver of open space himself.

It's the body control Jones has that separates him from other receivers. That, combined with his hands, is what attracted the Lions to him during free agency. And it's what, when he's using both well, can be devastating to opposing defenses.

"That guy, he's very limber," receiver Golden Tate said. "He's very loose out there, and he seems real slippery. There are some times you look at it and you're like, 'Aww, he's covered.' But then, the way he catches it makes it seem like he's wide open.

"He's hard to get a hold of, and we love it. He has speed and he has length, has long arms. He's a complete receiver, for sure."

In the middle of his second season with the Lions, he's starting to show it. And if it goes well for the Lions, Jones could end up with a bunch more footballs to keep.

^ Back to Top ^