This is the fourth article in a 12 part series that will examine which colleges have been the best at producing Detroit Lions in the 21st century. Today will be a look at Lions players from Notre Dame.
TJ Jones spent four seasons playing wide receiver for Notre Dame. In his freshman and sophomore years, he was a role player, recording 306 and 366 yards. During his junior year in 2012, he would have a mini-breakout season recording 50 receptions for 649 yards. He would follow this up with a very impressive senior campaign in which he made 70 receptions for 1108 yards and nine touchdowns. Although Jones wasn’t an all-star at Notre Dame, he was a reliable player with a very solid career.
Jones was drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. He would remain on the physically unable to perform list for his entire rookie season with a shoulder injury. In his second NFL season, he played in 10 games, making 10 receptions for 132 yards and one touchdown. In his third season last year, he played in only three games and made just five receptions for 93 yards.
TJ Jones has had a very unnotable career for the Detroit Lions and will be competing for a spot on the team this year. He will have to prove he is better than the likes of Jace Billingsley and Jared Abbrederis in preseason and training camp if he wants to continue his career as a Detroit Lion.
Theo Riddick also played for four seasons at Notre Dame. He was extremely versatile in college, as he saw time at running back, as a receiver and as a kickoff returner. He spent his first collegiate season as a reserve running back and receiver while he was the Fighting Irish’s primary kickoff returner. Over the next two seasons, he spent most of his time at wide receiver, catching 78 passes for 850 yards and six touchdowns in that time. In his senior season, Riddick would return to the running back position and rush for 917 yards and five touchdowns while also tallying 370 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. Riddick has a very solid career at Notre Dame which led to him being drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL draft.
In Riddick’s rookie NFL season, he played very rarely, only touching the ball on offense 13 times despite appearing in 14 games. It was in 2014 that he would finally start to register on the radar of Lions fans, as he caught 34 passes for 314 yards and four touchdowns (all of which came after week four of the season), including a key one-handed reception on a game-winning drive against the Atlanta Falcons and a game-winning touchdown against the Miami Dolphins. At this point, Riddick was not at all a star, but he had proven himself as a reliable pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Riddick would then go on to have a career year in 2015. He would catch 80 passes for 697 yards and three touchdowns, cementing himself as one of the premier pass-catching backs in the entire NFL. He was one of the Lions’ biggest offensive threats and showed that he is one of the most elusive players in football. Seemingly every week he would make a play like this:
In 2016 Riddick would continue to be a key cog in the Lions’ offense, but injuries slowed him down as he played in only 10 of 17 possible games. In those 10 games, he caught 53 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns and was also the Lions leading rusher on the season with 357 rushing yards. Riddick was placed on injured reserve and missed the last five games of the season with injuries to both of his wrists, which he had surgery on in the offseason.
Theo Riddick has been fantastic for the Lions, and will likely continue to be a key part of their offense for the foreseeable future. Riddick signed a three-year $12,750,000 contract extension before last season.
Golden Tate played for three years at Notre Dame. He played as a reserve during his freshman year, catching only six passes. He would have a big breakout sophomore campaign in 2008, as he caught 58 passes for 1080 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging a staggering 18.6 yards per reception. He would follow this up with an even better junior season in 2009 with 93 receptions for 1496 yards and 15 touchdowns. He would also rush for 186 yards and two touchdowns. His highly productive college career would lead to the Seattle Seahawks drafting him in the second round of the 2010 NFL draft.
Tate spent the first four seasons of his career in Seattle, with the best one coming in 2013, in which he had 64 receptions for 898 yards and five touchdowns. He would go on to win the Super Bowl that same year. That offseason, Tate left Seattle and signed a five-year, $31,000,000 contract with the Lions. He is currently three years into that contract.
Tate would immediately go on to have the best season of his career with the Lions, recording 99 receptions for 1331 yards and four touchdowns in 2014. With Calvin Johnson playing most of the season beat up or missing games, Tate did a fantastic job of stepping into the number on receiver role. He was a huge part in the best Lions season since the days of Barry Sanders.
Tate has been extremely consistent for the Lions since then, making 90 receptions in 2015 and 91 receptions in 2016. His average season as a Detroit Lion has been 93 receptions for 1073 yards and five touchdowns.
Tate will continue to be the Lions’ number one receiver for at least the next two seasons and has already expressed interest in receiving a contract extension earlier this offseason. Tate is arguably the best Detroit Lions free agent signing in recent memory.
Notre Dame has produced two very good Lions players in Theo Riddick and Golden Tate, and one who has done almost nothing in TJ Jones. The theme of this list is receiving talent: TJ Jones and Golden Tate are both wide receivers and although Riddick is listed as a running back, he is much more important in the passing game. In the future, Lions fans should be open to continuing to look for receiving talent from Notre Dame, the school has been extremely good to them so far.