As the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft rolled along, there were receivers available for the Chicago Bears. The Packers moved up – something Ryan Poles was NOT going to do – for Christian Watson. Many fans were calling for George Pickens, a player one scout called “a turd” during a text conversation with DBB. Many thought Skyy Moore’s route running prowess could catapult him into the back end of round one, where several WR-needy clubs resided. It did not.
The truth is that while many were calling this draft deep at wide receiver, the Bears (and several other clubs) didn’t particularly agree with that assessment. They rated Wilson, Williams, and Olave highly, the latter being their top player at the position. They liked the polish of Dotson and thought Burks might have the highest upside in the class. But they knew they were not in play for any of those players, and saw the gap between that group and the next group as cavernous.
Poles, with significant input from Luke Getsy, turned his attention to Velus Jones Jr. – the rare third-round receiver this brass believes can make an immediate impact on the football team. Why? Because Jones fits a specific role in this offense and is already well-accomplished in that role. What is that role?
First, he’s just a good receiver. From Jacob Infante over at WCG:
Jones broke out from a receiving production perspective in 2021, when he tallied 62 receptions, 807 yards and 7 touchdowns for the Volunteers. He proved to be a reliable kick returner over the course of his collegiate career, returning 2 kicks back for touchdowns and averaging 24.4 yards per return during his time in both Tennessee and USC.
There are concerns with Jones’ profile, turning 25 years old in May and not having an incredibly refined skillset as a route runner. That said, he’s a tremendous YAC threat with 4.31 speed, the lateral agility needed to change direction and make defenders miss, along with a powerful frame that allows him to shed would-be tacklers in the open field.
Second, there are two elements the Bears want to be hallmarks of their new offense: a diverse rushing attack and a quick, timing passing game. Jones projects to be a key aspect of both.
In the run game, he’ll be in constant motion and his speed will demand attention on the jet sweep. When he’s a decoy, his pre-snap motion will have inside backers cheating to the outside while David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert tear up the middle of the field.
In the pass game, the Bears know they won’t have the luxury of long pockets for Justin Fields. All of their work with him this off-season has been centered around cleaning up his mechanics to quicken his delivery. (This is something the previous regime should have done last summer but why bother when you have Andrew Dalton.) Jones is primarily a bubble screen/quick slant guy; a player who is most lethal with the football in his hands. But his speed can also potentially wreak havoc over the top in the play action game, a well-documented strength of the young quarterback.
(And for those concerned with his age, who cares? If the Bears are facing the difficult decision of having to pay top money to a 29-year-old, that means the pick was a raging success.)
Folks might view Jones as a project when projecting him incorrectly. The Bears have no intention of asking him to be anything more than he’s already shown he can be. And that role, in this offense, is absolutely essential. Poles still needs to flesh out this receiving corps and find another starter (or two). But you don’t pass on what you view as perfect scheme fit because the positional cupboard was left barren by the previous guys in charge.
Jones is not Devin Hester, the return man. Nobody ever will be again. But he’s a great return man AND an accomplished, polished weapon. He should be productive on day one in the NFL, giving the Bears two things they have sorely lacked in previous seasons: speed and explosiveness. He’s a major reason to be excited about what the 2022 Chicago can accomplish on the offensive side of the ball.