LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Velus Jones Jr. walked into Halas Hall for his first day on the job and left a strong impression on his new coaches.
The wide receiver, who the Chicago Bears drafted 71st overall, wore a suit and brought his own whiteboard to meetings. He came on prepared, aiming to prove his all-round approach and age, as a rookie soon to be 25 will be an asset to a group of slim positions.
“I’m all about my business,” Jones said. “I was young, but now that I’m older I realize what’s at stake, and it’s the best job in the world.
“They have a guy who is mature. Partying doesn’t interest me much. … My mind is screwed, and so they definitely have a mature guy minding his business and going to help this team any way he can.
Jones was Chicago’s only receiver drafted with his 11 picks last month, which was somewhat surprising given the focus on surrounding sophomore quarterback Justin Fields with as many guns as possible. Jones edged several wides with considerably more offensive production, such as Khalil Shakir, Jalen Tolbert and Calvin Austin III.
During a six-year college career — the NCAA granted an extra year during the pandemic — that began at USC in 2016 before Jones moved to Tennessee to play a bigger role as a wide receiver over his past two seasons, the 6-foot, 200-pound receiver/returner has become an all-around weapon for offensive and special teams. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jones was the only FBS player with more than 800 receiving yards, 600 kickoff return yards and 200 kickoff return yards in 2021. He also had seven receiving touchdowns and returned a kick off for a score. It was by far his best year in terms of offensive production having totaled 627 receiving yards and four combined touchdowns in his previous five seasons.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles stopped short of comparing the rookie to San Francisco do-it-all Deebo Samuel, but he’s considering the possibility of lining up Jones “anywhere” to pay dividends. This was reflected during rookie minicamp when Jones was moved from the backfield to the outside slot.
“I was talking to [Bears offensive coordinator] Luke [Getsy] the other day about the special attributes that [Jones] a, and he has a big plan for him,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “Let’s start with the receiver and then see what he can do, moving him to different places and giving him the ball, because he’s an explosive athlete.”
Chicago will continue to sort out its wide receiver depth chart when the full team begins OTAs next week. While trying to figure out where to line up Darnell Mooney and recent free agent signings Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown, Jones’ speed could be a factor in determining if his best fit is as an X receiver. .31 seconds for 40 yards was fourth-fastest in the NFL combine.
“I mean he can handle this league, you can see that already,” Getsy said. “Then the speed jumped out at you on the tape. When this guy takes the ball in his hands, he looks like 4.3 on the field. Few guys can do that, and I think that’s what comes out of this guy. He has a chance to score every time he touches the ball.
As a plan for Jones begins to take shape on offense, his impact on special teams looks imminent. Jones won SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year after averaging 132.5 all-purpose yards per game in 2021, including 27.3 yards per kick return and 15.1 yards by punt return. Chicago special teams coordinator Richard Hightower said he expects Jones to compete for both jobs this offseason. And for Jones, honing his craft as a returner is what he believes will help him in his development as a receiver.
Finding dynamic return specialists has become a priority for Chicago after parting ways with wide receiver Jakeem Grant and running back Tarik Cohen this offseason. The Bears have prioritized players who aren’t restricted to the positions they play on offense or defense. And for Jones, honing his craft as a returner is what he believes will help him in his development as a receiver.
“I would say it’s truly a blessing,” Jones said. “I want to win games, and I want to help this coaching staff win games… in any way that I can affect the game, certainly in the second leg and as a receiver. . I have the chance to being able to do both because I can impact the game in different ways, so I’m really excited about that.”