When the Chicago Bears drafted WR Velus Jones Jr. in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, most fans didn’t know how to feel. While Jones certainly had the speed and size of a dynamic NFL playmaker, he lacked the pedigree of a true wide out, something the Bears were in dire need of following the departure of Allen Robinson.
Two main questions have seemed to be a turn off regarding his Jones, his age, and his lack of college production.
Jones is currently 25 years old, as he spent six seasons in college (four at USC, and two at Tennessee). Of those six seasons, 2021 was the only time he shined as a wide receiver. 2021 was Jones’ final year at Tennessee, and he posted a career high 807 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns.
72 Division-I wide receivers had more yards on the season that Velus, inducing his Tennessee teammate Cedric Tillman. And yet, Jones Jr. was the 14th receiver off the board and the 71st pick in the draft. This led fans to wonder why the Bears thought so highly of Jones if he was an old rookie with a lack of elite production in college.
Recent quotes from Velus Jones himself and his college head coach are providing answers to those questions and showing how the Bears may have gotten a massive steal in the third round.
At the SEC meetings in Destin, Florida this week, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel was asked about the potential he saw in Velus ahead of the NFL draft:
“With Velus you saw some things during spring ball, but he was playing out wide. He didn’t find his natural home (in the slot) until JaVonta (Payton) transferred in and we were able to slide him in,” Heupel said. “Velus was unique in that he got injured early in camp, so really it was the week of the first ball game where he first got going. That’s why you look at his productivity, it was really after the first couple of ball games where he really started to take off.”
The numbers back this up, too. After the first four games of the season, Jones had just nine catches and only one touchdown. It wasn’t until SEC play in October that he really began to take off.
Tennessee redshirt senior Velus Jones Jr. with a 72-yard touchdown.— Luca Sartirana (@SartiranaLuca) November 7, 2021
The blazing-fast kick returner is also a reliable deep threat. I can definitely see him carve out a role in the NFL. @JimNagy_SB and the @seniorbowl have their eyes set on him since the beginning of the season. pic.twitter.com/Xo4zMLuDRi
Hindsight is always 20/20, but this gives good reason to believe Jones’ numbers would have been padded a bit more had he been able to play at 100% for early season games against weaker competition. If this was the case, it’s likely that a receiver of his size and speed would have made more waves come draft season…and potentially been picked well ahead of 71 overall.
Now the other red flag regarding Jones has been his age. As previously mentioned, Jones turned 25 in May. That makes him six months older than Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney, who is entering his third NFL season. When Jones was asked about being older than other rookies, he seemed confident that it won’t be an issue that effects his career:
“Age is nothing but a number,” Jones said. “I feel like injuries affect no matter how old you are, and that’s something I was fortunate (with). The biggest injury I ever had was a high-ankle sprain. Never tore anything, broke anything, so I have the body of a 21-year-old. Age is nothing but a number. A lot of people try to make that a big issue, but at the end of the day, I can play ball. I’m physical. I can run. I can make plays.”
Age is always a concern with football players because of how evanescent their careers can be. That said, Jones is right, it has always been more about the mileage on a player than it is the years on the birth certificate. Jones’ age may have scared other teams away, but if he’s got the “body of a 21-year-old”, the Bears have to feel good about what he could contribute long-term.
The more time goes by, the better the 2022 draft looks for the Bears, and the more exciting it gets to think about Velus Jones Jr. in action at Soldier Field this fall.
Image via Saul Young/News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK