Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers preview the Lions-Steelers game on this week's Lions Lowdown.
Allen Park — Opposing teams don’t like to give Lions receiver Marvin Jones much breathing room. In fact, he gets less cushion than anyone in the NFL.
We know this seemingly obscure fact thanks to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, which tracks highly detailed information on the field through sensors in every players’ shoulder pads. And for the two years the data has been made available, Jones has been at the very bottom of the cushion list.
Last year, on average, Jones got 3.8 yards of cushion before the snap. This year, it's 3.6 yards. That’s less than half some of the NFL’s premier deep threats. Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill is sitting at 7.8 yards through seven weeks, just ahead of Pittsburgh's Martavis Bryant at 7.7.
“It is what it is,” Jones said. “Now it’s just up to me to create chaos at the line and do what I do. I kind of sensed it.”
Jones has handled the pressure decently, but his numbers are slightly down from last season, when he caught 55 passes for a career-high 930 yards. At his current rate, he’ll finish with 53 grabs for 747 yards. Despite the slight downturn, the Lions are pleased with the progress the veteran receiver has made beating press-coverage off the line.
“He’s doing a good job developing as an overall player,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “He’s putting a big emphasis on things that he’s seeing on tape that are showing up, and I do think he’s getting better.”
And Jones is making the catches in his wheelhouse. He’s hauled in 20 of the 22 catchable passes his direction, cutting back slightly on the drop issues that uncharacteristically plagued him in 2016. He’s also making an occasional grab most receiver can’t, like a twisting, one-handed touchdown grab against the Saints a little more than a week ago.
While Jones wouldn’t call the scoring play a career highlight because it came in a loss, he does think it’s the best catch he’s made in his career. But it’s not exactly unusual. As quarterback Matthew Stafford notes, Jones has consistently shown exceptional body control and great sideline awareness.
But Jones’ ability to make a catch in close quarters comes with the territory. Not only does he get minimal cushion, he also ranks near the bottom of the league in separation, in part due to Detroit’s quick-hitting passing attack and the team's comfort level with throwing deep balls to him in one-on-one coverage.
“I kind of would like them to stay up on me, but my thing is it doesn’t matter what they do, I control whatever we do and whatever I do,” Jones said. “You know what I’m saying? However they play me that’s how they play me. It’s all good.”