Velus Jones Jr.’s decision to transfer from USC to Tennessee was all about giving himself an opportunity to see the field on offense. After four years at USC, he knew it was time for a change of scenery ahead of the 2020 season.
“It was all about playing time,” Jones said. “The opportunity I got. You can’t really experience anything if you’re not out there as much. So when I got that opportunity, now I can experiment other things I need to work on.”
Jones made the most of it. His first season with the Vols in 2020 was his most productive offensively up to that point, then he took it to an even higher level during his extra COVID-19 year in 2021. Jones caught 62 passes for 807 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He was also the co-SEC special teams player of the year as a return man.
That versatility is why the Bears drafted Jones in the third round (71st overall) just a couple of weeks ago. Jones, who turned 25 on Wednesday, came to rookie minicamp last week wearing a suit and toting his own whiteboard. General manager Ryan Poles said Jones shed some tears when Poles called to tell him the Bears were drafting him.
“He’s somebody that’s going to be all-in, focused on trying to figure everything out,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said.
The question for Getsy now becomes how will he deploy Jones? The coaching staff is clearly pumped about what Jones can bring on special teams. He averaged 27.3 yards a kick return last season at Tennessee, as well as 15.1 yards a punt return.
On offense, Jones should step in and be a key contributor. Receiver Darnell Mooney is likely to be the team’s top target and free agent acquisition Byron Pringle could emerge as the No. 2, but opportunity remains behind those two at the receiver position.
On the night the Bears drafted Jones, Poles was careful to note that he wasn’t comparing Jones to San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel, but he did bring up Samuel’s name. Poles also brought up Tyreek Hill’s name, in the sense that some draft pundits thought Hill would be nothing more than a special teams return man when he was coming out of college.
“[Jones] has that flexibility where you can put him anywhere,” Poles said. “Backfield. Slot. Outside. And then he’s a returner, gunner. There are so many different things that he can do.”
Samuel is something of an NFL unicorn. He caught 77 passes last year and attempted 59 carries. He put the 49ers’ offense on his back during a run to the NFC championship game. Former Bears receiver Cordarrelle Patterson did something similar for Atlanta last season, catching 52 passes and rushing 153 times.
Fads are popular in the NFL, as they are in everyday life. Every team in the league is now looking for the next Deebo Samuel. A big, barreling receiver who can do a little bit of everything. The Bears hope they have theirs.
“That’s what the whole offense is built around, the versatility of everyone,” Getsy said. “So, we want versatile guys, guys that can do a bunch of different things.”
Getsy’s offense is still a mystery at this point. It will come into shape during training camp, but it won’t truly show itself until Week 1. It seems likely, though, that Getsy will devise up creative ways to put the ball in Jones’ hands.
Don’t expect Jones to be taking handoffs like Samuel right away. Head coach Matt Eberflus said the Bears will start him out at receiver and “see what he can do.”
Jones said his main focus during the offseason is improving his ability to break in and out of routes. Growing up, Jones was always one of the smallest kids on his teams. He said his speed really became elite in high school. He called himself “a late bloomer.”
As a 25-year-old rookie, that term still fits.
“[I’m] taking everything in and establishing a role on this team,” Jones said.