New Lions tight end Jesse James says his 'ceiling hasn't been reached yet'

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Jesse James was a solid, productive tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Detroit Lions' recent free-agent addition believes his best is yet to come. 

"Well, I've had some success in Pittsburgh," James said Thursday at an introductory press conference. "I think it could have been better. Offensively, I wasn't used the way I feel I could be used here. I feel like my ceiling is much higher here than it was in the past."

New Lions tight end Jesse James says he feels like his game can reach new heights in Detroit.

James was 20 years old when he was drafted by the Steelers, and after being eased into the team's rotation as a rookie, he went on to average 37 catches and 378 yards the past three seasons. 

Splitting time with Vance McDonald, James played a shade more than 50 percent of the snaps last season. He often found himself on the bench on third downs and other critical offensive situations. 

"I think I can be used more in situational-type plays, down in the red zone," James said. "I'm looking forward to having that shot on third downs, helping the offense succeed in those high-pressure moments, in the red zone and third down. 

"I just think I can do more. Like I said, I've gotten better every year, I'm still young — 24 years old — so my ceiling hasn't been reached yet. I still have a long way to go to get better, improving and I'll do that while I'm here."

James, a PIttsburgh native who played at Penn State, said it was difficult leaving his hometown team, but there were better offers from multiple teams in free agency. He settled on the Lions, who awarded him a four-year pact worth $22.6 million with $10.5 million fully guaranteed. 

Detroit was desperate to secure a quality tight end after releasing Eric Ebron last offseason and coming up short in their efforts to land a replacement via trade or free agency. The team's tight ends combined for 45 catches for 461 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. 

James is the only announced signing, out of the team's four new additions, who hadn't previously played for Lions coach Matt Patricia. But James said he's played against Patricia's defenses enough times, and consulted with friends who had played for the coach, to know he'll be a good fit for the coach's culture. 

"When it came down to it, Coach Patricia and my mindset are pretty similar," James said. "We're focused on football the same way. We're here to win. That's the bottom line. I'm not here for any fantasy points or things like that. I'm here to win football games and try to help the team the best way I can."

James is convinced Patricia can help him achieve the goal he didn't accomplish in Pittsburgh — winning a Super Bowl. 

"He's won Super Bowls, he's been there, he's done that," James said. "He knows the path to put us on to get us ready for a January run. We need to get used to playing January football because finishing your season December 31 isn't really that fun. To me, it's kind of a waste of a year."

As for the city of Detroit, James' got a convincing pitch from former Lion Anthony Zettel. 

"Oh yeah, Anthony Zettel is my best friend, will be the best man at my wedding in a couple months," James said. " He's familiar with the area. He's from West Branch, two hours away, so he's always been a Detroit fan. He loves Detroit, loved the city.

"He sold me on the fact that Detroit gets a bad rap, but it's a good, hard-working city and there are beautiful places to live."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers