ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He wanted this all along, from the moment he signed with the Detroit Lions almost two years ago -- and more so after the frustration he felt while sitting in an empty visitors locker room a season ago following a playoff defeat in Seattle. This was what Marvin Jones imagined for himself when he left Cincinnati after the 2015 season.
It wasn’t what he did in 2016, when he put up some career highs at the time but did most of it in a four-game stretch. No, it was how he handled the 2017 season, when he became a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time, caught nine touchdown passes and was named as a Pro Bowl alternate. This was what he always felt he could do.
“It’s what I envisioned when I was sitting down at my locker at the end of last year,” Jones told ESPN recently. “You could obviously tell how disappointed I was in just everything. I also said, ‘Hey, I’m going to come back and be one of the better receivers.’
“I want to be the best receiver in the league, mentioned in the top. And I felt like I came back this year and I did that. There’s still a lot of work to do, obviously, to be that top guy. That’s my goal. That’s always something I had in my mind, but this was a good start.”
Jones finished the season tied for 39th in receptions (61) but ninth in yards (1,101), tied for fourth in touchdowns, dropped just one pass and led the NFL in yards per reception (18.05). He was also fourth in the league in air yards per target (14.93), showing his promise as a deep threat for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Of the 15 1,000-yard receivers this season, Jones did it in the third-fewest targets (104), with only Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (104) and Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (102) needing fewer chances to get there.
It elevated Jones into a different conversation among receivers, too. Last year, despite having over 900 yards receiving, there were some questions about what he’d be able to do with the Lions. Now he’s become a legitimate No. 1 receiver in an offense that also had Golden Tate record 92 catches for 1,003 yards.
What Jones managed consistently throughout the 2017 season was what he showed flashes of at the start of 2016, when he had 118 receiving yards against Tennessee and 205 against Green Bay. Then, he essentially disappeared until Detroit’s playoff defeat in Seattle, where he had four catches for 81 yards and offered a glimmer of what could be.
This past season, he had 80 yards or more in half of his games, giving Stafford more consistency. Of the 17 third-down passes Jones caught this season (on 29 targets), 16 of them went for first downs. His yards per catch on third down (20.35) ranked fifth in the league.
He was also fifth in the league in receptions of 20 or more yards (20) and fifth in yards (691) and tied for fourth in touchdowns (four) on those such passes.
But this is where Jones wants to make improvements. He’s going to go back and work with Randy Moss again this offseason. His goal for everything he does football-wise this offseason is to go from a reliable, body-twisting deep threat into a complete receiver. The type of player who can take a slant 50 yards as easily as he can catch a go route for 40.
“I feel like me doing more and not just being the best at deep balls,” Jones said. “Just doing a lot more in between with the short-to-intermediate [routes]. There’s always something to get better at, and my focus will be on being that guy that can catch it and take it the distance.
“You know, I think that’s a part of the game that I’m really going to focus on this coming offseason.”
He’s not sure exactly how he’s going to do that yet, but he has some ideas. There’s working with Moss. There’s also how he felt once he got comfortable in college and even in high school -- different levels of football, to be sure -- but even then he was the receiver who could do everything. So he’s going to try and channel back into that. If anything was lacking in Jones’ game this season, it was that. He was No. 45 among receivers in yards after the catch, with 209.
To help with that, he might enlist the assistance of one of his new neighbors -- not right next door, but close by -- in San Diego: his teammate, Tate. Tate led all receivers in yards after the catch again this season with 629 -- 103 yards better than the next-best receiver in the league, Miami’s Jarvis Landry. Jones said maybe they’ll have “long talks” about it to help him improve his game.
If he’s able to do that, he knows by this time next season there’s a chance he will have raised his level again -- and be in the conversation as one of the top receivers in the league. Right now, it might be what is separating him from that group to begin with.
“I mean, shoot, maybe. Just because that adds another element, you know,” Jones said. “It adds another element to go and take something to the house. That means they are going to have to be worried about a lot of things.
“They already have a handful with me, anyway. I’m just playing, but yeah, I think that’s the difference. If I want to get there to the top, maybe that’s what I have to do.”