The Lions face the daunting task of replacing Calvin Johnson. Not that you can expect any mere mortal to step into Megatron’s shoes, but Detroit is sincerely hoping the $40 million they’re paying Marvin Jones over the next five years will go a long way towards filling the void.
Following the money, Jones’ contract — especially in comparison to running mate Golden Tate — doesn’t necessarily position him as the Lions’ unquestioned WR1. $20 million of Jones’ deal is guaranteed, and he’ll see $27 million over the next three years, including an $8 million signing bonus. Tate also saw an $8 million signing bonus when he signed a five-year, $31 million deal two years ago, and his $17.7 million in salary over the next three seasons is actually more than Jones’ $17 million salary in that same span.
That said, Tate doesn’t cast nearly the same shadow over his team’s offense that AJ Green cast over the Bengals — or that Megatron cast over the Lions, for that matter. We may be looking at a true WR1 and WR1A situation in Detroit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Jones, who actually out-targeted Green seven times last season. Over the course of a full season, Jones’ per-game averages as the top target would have netted him an 80-catch, 1,000-yard season — as opposed to a 55-catch, 650-yard campaign when he’s the second wheel.
Because Jones has been an under-the-radar WR1A already, his share of targets shouldn’t change dramatically with the new venue — and if it does, it would be more likely to increase as Tate won’t command the same volume as Green did. Whether Jones’ share stays the same or climbs, his overall volume of targets should rise because Detroit throws more than the Bengals — an average of 90 times per year over the past three seasons.
Jones turned last season’s opportunities in Cincinnati into a fantasy campaign that ranked 39th among wideouts. That paled to his WR21 finish from his pre-injury 2013 season. The difference? Just four TDs last season compared to 10 in 2013. Last year Tyler Eifert claimed a larger share of Andy Dalton’s red zone attention, with backs and tight ends accounting for more than half of Cincy’s receiving touchdowns. The Lions have an upside tight end in Eric Ebron, but even if Ebron steps up his game there are still all those Megatron red zone attempts to replace. Tate has been surprisingly active in the red zone with 31 targets over the past two seasons, turning that opportunity into 23 catches and seven touchdowns. But it feels as if he’s maxing out his red zone usage, leaving Johnson’s 35 targets (17 catches, 12 TDs) on the table for Jones. Even if the 10 TDs was an outlier, the volume and opportunity in Detroit suggest an uptick in Jones’ scoring.
It’s rare when a wideout switches teams and gains fantasy value. But the combination of the opportunity created by Megatron’s departure and the increased volume due to Detroit’s penchant for passing certainly bodes well for Jones. And when you consider the Lions aren’t asking Marvin to be significantly more than what he’s been in the past — that is, he doesn’t need to carry the Detroit passing game, merely be a quality cog in the machine — he’s looking at a solid fantasy contribution this season.
In other words, don’t expect him to be Megatron and you won’t be disappointed.