On Tuesday, I offered a breakdown of Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas. While watching him, I was intrigued by the prospect of a Dennis Pitta-Niklas duo in Baltimore.
But Niklas wasn’t the only one who caught my eye.
Notre Dame senior wide receiver TJ Jones constantly stood out as the quickest player on Notre Dame’s offense, and was winning contested catches left and right.
I figured Jones – who I was first interested in after watching him run crisp comeback routes at the Pinstripe Bowl – was worth an extended look.
After review, he’s a guy who is worthy of more recognition.
Listed at 6’0, 195 pounds, Jones isn’t going to wow anyone with his size.
He uses his small, compact frame to his advantage, however.
Speed is Jones’ game, and Notre Dame made it a priority to get the ball in his hands in the short passing game and let him make plays after the catch.
On this 50-yard gain, Jones’ burst after the catch was on display (also note Niklas’  lead blocking on the play).
Where Jones also wins is when he displays his ability to both snatch contested catches and adjust to poorly thrown balls.
With Tommy Rees as his quarterback, most balls were underthrown, but more times than not Rees’ passes almost looked intentionally underthrown, allowing his receivers to adjust before the defender reacted.
Jones has no trouble adjusting to balls before the defensive back does.
Combine that with his strong hands that allow him to pluck the ball out of the air and you have an ideal receiver who can win jump balls.
A few examples of Jones doing just that:
His small frame may fool you at first glance, but at the combine, Jones’ hands figure to be larger than expected for his size.
Swiping the ball out of the air at a high point is among his fortes.
In a normal year, Jones’ college play would likely lead to him being a day two pick. But in possibly the deepest wide receiver class in the past decade, seniors such as Jones won’t catch any breaks on draft day.
Jones may be a day three pick, but could be an ideal target for the Ravens.
Whether by coincidence or on purpose, the Ravens have selected a wide receiver on the third day of the draft in each of the last four years (David Reed, Tandon Doss, Tommy Streeter, Aaron Mellette).
With Baltimore’s wide receiver group as needy as ever for help, it won’t be surprising to see that trend to continue.
Jones won’t fulfill any desires to improve the size of Baltimore’s wide receiver corps, but he’s a similar player to Deonte Thompson, albeit a much more well-rounded one.
Jones could be an upgrade over Thompson, and has the ability to be much more of a contributor in the NFL than Thompson.
It’s no secret that Baltimore’s offense could benefit from one or two receiving targets who can win contested catches, an aspect the offense lack in 2013. Jones proved on a weekly basis in college that he can be relied on as someone who can adjust and make plays on 50/50 balls.
It’s a small victory for any team to can find a sure-handed, aggressive receiver with speed on the third day of the draft. Jones fits the bill.
And while he wasn’t used by Notre Dame as a kick returner, Jones’ speed makes him more than capable in that role if called upon.
This year’s draft provides plenty of intriguing mid-round options at wide receiver, and Jones is among the best options.