The Bears on Tuesday signed third-round draft pick Velus Jones Jr., an explosive receiver and return specialist, to a four-year contract.
Jones, 25, appeared in 61 games with 21 starts over six seasons at USC (2016-19) and Tennessee (2020-21). The 6-foot, 204-pounder caught 120 passes for 1,434 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also averaged 24.4 yards with two touchdowns on 122 kickoff returns and 15.1 yards on 18 punt returns.
Jones enjoyed a breakout 2021 campaign, more than doubling his career totals with 62 receptions for 807 yards and seven touchdowns. In addition, he was named the SEC Co-Special teams Player of the Year after averaging 27.3 yards with one TD on 23 kickoff returns and 15.1 yards on 18 punt returns.
Jones has made a positive impression since joining the Bears.
"I think he has hunger," receivers coach Tyke Tolbert said Tuesday. "He has maturity. He already has his Master's degree. So, he's a smart guy, mature beyond his years, takes his job very seriously. He's in the meetings taking really good notes. He brought his own little white board, erase board. He's taking notes and erasing and he's drawing plays.
"We've thrown him into the fire pretty quick, put him at two positions immediately. Get him to learn it now, because we want him to learn the whole concept … the more he can do, the more obviously he'll have a chance to play. So, we're going to throw it all at him and see what he soaks in, and hopefully he'll get out there and make some plays for us."
One of Jones' greatest strengths is his ability to gain yards after the catch.
"That combination of speed and size makes it hard for you to tackle [Jones], but it also gives him a power a lot of guys don't have," Bears area scout Sam Summerville said after the draft. "That's something that is rare to find with that kind of combo."
Of the Bears' 11 draft picks, ESPN analyst Todd McShay named Jones their best selection. McShay identified the best choice for all 32 teams, stressing that it's not necessarily the best player. The factors he considered were team needs, the value a player presented compared to his draft board and any trades related to the pick.
"I love Jones' upside," McShay wrote. "He's a tad under 6-foot and is still refining his route running, but look at his speed and contact balance. He is a threat any time the ball is in his hands, with instincts and elusiveness in the open field and the breakaway speed to take the top off the defense. Jones' 4.31 in the 40 ranked fourth among all participants at the combine and second among receivers, and he's built like a running back. Chicago can get the ball in his hands on quick slants and let him pick up extra yards. They can target him on deep shots. They can get him involved on sweeps. And they can use him in the return game."
The Bears are excited about Jones' speed, a trait he demonstrated during Senior Bowl week in practice and in the game itself when he led his team with four receptions for 53 yards, including a 32-yard catch.
"You could really see it, the way it translated to the field," Summerville said. "I mean, he just runs by guys. Every time he gets the ball in his hands, you can see him outrunning angles, and he's a real exciting guy to watch because of that."
With Jones in the fold, the Bears' only two draft picks who remain unsigned are second-round selections Kyler Gordon, a cornerback from Washington, and Jaquan Brisker, a safety from Penn State.
With the 71st overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bears select Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones Jr.