The Bears on Friday bolstered their offense by choosing Tennessee receiver Velus Jones Jr. in the third round of the NFL Draft at No. 71 overall.
Jones appeared in 61 games with 21 starts over six seasons at USC (2016-19) and Tennessee (2020-21). The 6-foot, 200-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 was thrilled to be drafted by the Bears and is eager to begin working with second-year quarterback Justin Fields.
"I'm really excited, especially [to play with] a guy like Justin, a great leader, and seeing what he's accomplished throughout his career, and he has so much more," Jones said. "He doesn't have a ceiling on him, a true talent, and I just can't wait to receive balls from him.
"It's a true blessing with all of the history there, even one of the great returners, Devin Hester. It's a big role, but I've been ready for this all my life. I started football at four, always been strong in my faith, and I'm just real excited and I can't wait to get up there."
One of Jones' greatest strengths is 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," said Bears area scout Sam Summerville. "That's something that is rare to find with that kind of combo."
Jones takes pride in being difficult to tackle.
"Ball-in-hand guy, it doesn't mean just short passes," he said. "When the ball touches my hands from an over route, curl route, an out route, I'm going to make something happen, especially with the mentality I have. It came from my father: never, ever get tackled by the first person. That's something that I've been living. That's something that I was able to put on film and prove I'm one of the best ball-in-hand guys in the nation. So, make the first man miss and make a play happen."
Jones doesn't only elude tacklers; he often tries to run through or over them.
"That's just a part of me," he said. "Being young and playing running back in park league, it was always my mentality. I have a dog mentality. I'm definitely going to get on a clip with physicality. My granddad being in the marines, a retired vet with his killer mindset, how to be tough and be a man. It's just one thing that I've never been afraid of, is contact. It shows on film and the film is a solid movie about you. That's a part of my DNA. It's a part of who I am. It's a part of my family tree and where I come from, physicality and contact."
Jones redshirted as a true freshman at USC and later took advantage of an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 to return to Tennessee in 2022. As a result, he will turn 25 years old in a couple weeks and is five months older than Bears receiver Darnell Mooney, who is entering his third NFL season.
"Age is nothing but a number," Jones said. "The biggest injury I ever had was a high ankle sprain. Never tore anything, broke anything, so I have the body of like a 21-year-old. A lot of people try to make it a big issue, but at the end of the day, I can play ball, I'm physical, I can run, I can make plays.
"The age thing came up a lot, but it doesn't matter. I'm going to come in Year 1, find my role on the team and make an impact."
With the 71st overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bears select Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones Jr.