The Chicago Bears entered NFL Draft weekend with six picks and countless needs. And while they didn’t plug every hole, making 11 picks during the draft helped first-year GM Ryan Poles chip away at his roster-building challenge. We’ll meet the Bears’ 11 draft picks, get to know a bit about their past, and where they project to go moving forward.
VELUS JONES JR. (ROUND 3, PICK 71)
• Position: Wide receiver, return specialist
• College: Tennessee (2020-21), USC (2016-19)
• Height, weight, hand size, arm length: 6-0, 204 pounds, 9 3/4″ hands, 30 7/8″ arms
NEED TO KNOW
• 2021 stats: 13 games, 62 catches, 807 yards, 7 touchdowns; 23 kick returns, 628 yards, 1 TD (27.3 yards/return); 18 punt returns, 272 yards (15.1 yards/return)
• Accomplishments: First-team All-SEC return specialist (2021), SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year (2021), Second-team All-Pac-12 kick returner (2019)
• Position ranking: 17th (ESPN), 16th (CBS), 18th (WalterFootball.com)
• The Athletic’s consensus ranking based on 82 big boards: 151st overall, 21st receiver
RELATIVE ATHLETIC SCORE
Relative Athletic Score grades player measurements on a 0-10 scale and compares them to their contemporaries. It is a unique way to give some of these prospects some more depth and perspective.
Velus Jones Jr. is a WR prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.05 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 249 out of 2613 WR from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/Gf1YWxd22H #RAS pic.twitter.com/JIT1sGN5zF
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 23, 2022
THREE STRENGTHS (FROM NFL.COM’s DRAFT PROFILE)
• “Run-after-catch talent is a factor.” … It’ll be nice to see a Bears receiver in the open field with the ability to operate in space. Not running a billion hitch routes should help Jones in this regard.
• “Tears out of arm tackles and gives up body for every additional yard.” … Tackle-breaking is a unique skill that Bears scouts have done well in finding in recent years. I hope Jones continues that trend.
• “Routes showed some improvement later in the season.” … That Jones showed signs of improvement as a senior in college suggests to me that he still has room to grow.
THREE WEAKNESSES (FROM NFL.COM’S DRAFT PROFILE)
• “Inefficient footwork at the top of his routes.” … New WRs Coach Tyke Tolbert has work to do in order to get the most out of Jones as a receiver.
• “Only asked to run extremely basic routes.” … I don’t expect the Bears to throw him to the wolves in terms of getting every route tree down by the time camp breaks later this summer.
• “Below-average wingspan and catch radius.” … Despite scoring well in terms of the Relative Athletic Score scale, size and catch radius limitations will diminish Jones’ upside.
NFL.COM COMPARISON: Devin Duvernay
WHERE HE FITS
Top kick return option, gadget player on offense with the potential to emerge as a main slot receiver at some point during his rookie season.
The Velus Jones Jr. pick was arguably the most polarizing among Bears fans, with much of the angst rooted in his age. Jones will play his rookie year at age 25, which is “old” by first-year player standards and a red flag to many draft-obsessed folks. And for what it’s worth, I get it. I understand why age concerns exist. Older college players breaking out when they’re more physically mature than their on-campus contemporaries is a red flag of sorts because they won’t have those edges when they make it to the NFL.
And yet, I am unbothered by the age thing. Mostly because of his fit and potential role(s) on this team.
Jones projects to be an impact returner who can also serve as a gunner on special teams. And if Luke Getsy has a morsel of creativity in his playbook, he’ll find ways to get Jones the ball in space to take advantage of his skills with the ball in the open field. Whether it is as a receiver in the short passing game, on vertical passes, or even jet sweeps and end arounds, there are paths in which the Bears can get a potential playmaker the ball from a variety of different spots.
As Bears fans, we’re accustomed to the team signing this type of player as a free agent in their post-prime years, then watching the offensive coaching staff misuse said player, and ultimately bemoaning the waste of cash, cap space, and roster. But by drafting Jones, the Bears are getting that type of player on a rookie-scale contract. So, if he flops, at least it isn’t a handcuff situation. And because of the special teams contributions, Jones still has potential contribute in multiple areas early and often.
Famed songstress Aaliyah once sang “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” — which Jones hopes to prove with his play starting this year.