Draft Bears Velus Jones Jr.: Receiver/returner meets team’s need for speed

2022 NFL Draft follow-up: Live blog and pick-by-pick analysis

Here’s what excites receiver/returner Velus Jones Jr. about being drafted by the Bears with the 71st pick in the NFL Draft: No. 1, he plays with Justin Fields.

“I’m so excited,” Jones said. “I’m really excited, especially a guy like Justin, a great leader, and to see what he’s accomplished throughout his career, and (he) has so much more (still to do). He has no ceiling on him, a real talent, and I just can’t wait to get bullets from him.

No. 2: He can return kicks and punts for a legend’s team.

“It really is a blessing with the whole story there, even one of the great comebacks, Devin Hester,” Jones said. “It’s a big role, but I’ve been ready for this all my life.”

Jones became the Bears’ third selection in the draft — and their first on offense — after cornerback Kyler Gordon at No. 39 and safety Jaquan Brisker at No. 48.

Provisional notes: Sheil Kapadia weighs in on the choices

Big board best available: Who is left of Dane Brugler’s Top 300?

Big Board ranking: Jones ranked 182nd in AthleticismDane Brugler’s top 300. Jones was the 14th receiver taken in the draft and the first taken in the third round. There was also a big gap between receiver picks before Jones was selected at No. 71. The Chiefs drafted Skyy Moore from Western Michigan at No. 54 ahead of Jones.

Introduction: Let’s start with his age. At 24, Jones is older than most rookies, but Bears national scout Sam Summerville said Jones took advantage of his situation during the COVID-19 pandemic. He moved from USC to Tennessee, following receivers coach Tee Martin, and saw his opportunities increase on offensive and special teams.

“It really helped him refine some parts of his game,” Summerville said. “The more I watched him, the more I saw him improve. Even going through this season, you see a different player later in the season than what you saw at the start of the strip. And I think that’s the one of those guys who kept improving, and I think the extra time helped him.

With that extra time, Jones (5-foot-11, 204 pounds) had 62 catches for 807 yards and seven touchdowns in his final college season. But he also stood out in two major conferences as a returner. He was a second-team All-Pac 12 selection in 2019. Two years later, he was named co-SEC Special Teams Player of the Year. He was also a first-team draft pick in the SEC.

His speed is what separates him. The 4.31 he ran in the 40-yard dash appears on the field.

“I mean, he just runs with guys,” Summerville said. “And every time he takes the ball in his hands, you can see him going over the angles. And, you know, he’s a really exciting guy to watch because of that.

How it fits: Jones fits because the Bears just need receivers. Signing Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown in free agency doesn’t do much. The Bears could have signed any receiver and it would have made sense because they need one for Fields.

Where does Jones separate himself from the others at this point in the draft? With his speed, and the Bears desperately wanted to add him.

First, here’s an excerpt from Brugler’s scouting report: “Jones has exceptional top speed, with the vision, balance and competitive skills to create with the ball in his hands as a returner or catch and go (80.7% of his receptions in 2021 occurred within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage).

Second guess? It’s fair to wonder if the Bears will regret waiting for the seventh pick in the third round to move to receiver. The counter-argument, of course, is that the Bears’ board told them to wait. And that’s OK.

Jones has been compared to former Bear do-everything Cordarrelle Patterson, albeit a smaller version.

“I can see the same kind of role,” Summerville said. “Obviously, they are from the same school. You know, Cordarrelle being a returner, Velus being a returner, they both have great speed, they both have the ability to do different things on offense, whether it’s from the backfield or throw sweeps and running back type stuff. And I think he’s like a running back when he has the ball in his hands. The difference is that I think Cordarrelle is a lot ー he’s a different human being. He’s a bigger man. But I can definitely see where that comparison will come from.

Rookie Impact: Receivers have made a rapid impact across the league in recent years. Watch what Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith did for the Bengals, Dolphins and Eagles, respectively, last season in their NFL debuts.

But those are first-round picks. Sorry, make that high pick in the first round.

Jones should have different expectations placed on him as the 71st pick. There are reasons why he was the 14th receiver taken and Brugler had him with a fifth/sixth round rating.

There’s even more to Jones, however. He should be expected to contribute to special teams immediately as a returner. Summerville made sure to mention that special teams coordinator Richard Hightower was excited about his selection.

Impact of the depth map: The Bears’ top three receivers are Darnell Mooney, Pringle and now Jones. But it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bears made him work with second- and third-team teams to open the offseason. It’s up to offensive coordinator Luke Getsy to find ways to implement his speed.

On special teams, the Bears drafted running back Khalil Herbert last year to be their primary kick returner, and it didn’t take long for him to land that role. He finished with 27 returns for 650 yards, including a long 50. But if Herbert’s role extends to offense – and it looks like it might – Jones will have the opportunity to impress at the camp with kicks and punts.

Receivers Dazz Newsome and Nsimba Walker should be Jones’ competition on punt returns. Newsome returned six for 75 yards, including a 28-yard gain, last season as a rookie.

Quick assessment: Well, Jones is fast. Very fast. As in the quick game. So that’s a plus. The Bears needed more speed on their roster. It’s also positive that he can play in special teams. And obviously, he fills a roster need on offense as a receiver. But you’ll wonder for a season or two if the Bears waited too long to find Fields a receiver.

Jones is eager to prove himself, however. He can’t wait to catch his first pass and show what he’s capable of.

“When the ball hits my hands from an over route, a curl route, an outside route, I’m going to make things happen, especially with the mentality that I have. It came from my dad: never, never getting first person tackle. It’s something I’ve been through. It’s something I’ve been able to film and prove that I’m one of the best ball-in-hand players in the country. So miss the first one man and make a game happen.

(Photo: Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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