In this year’s draft, we had spent our first round draft capital on acquiring the Week 9 NFC Offensive Player of the Week in Justin Fields. In hindsight, this was a superb move from the last regime in an attempt to get the quarterback position correct. Fields has been spectacular in his sophomore season after a troubling start, and many had believed that Fields would have a standout rookie receiver to be throwing passes to this year. The Bears started draft week with 3 selections on day 2, two second round selections and a third. Many analysts believed the Bears were going to swing on a WR, but to the disbelief of many Bears fans, Poles actually chose defense and exhausted his two second rounders on DB’s Kyler Gordon and JaQuan Brisker. It wasn’t until the third round where Poles finally pulled the trigger on a WR after passing on the likes of George Pickens, Alec Pierce, Skyy Moore, Wandale Robinson, and John Metchie with the selection of Velus Jones out of Tennessee/USC with the 71st overall pick. Jones’ season has been rocky to say the least, and we’ll take a look at how his career has begun with the Chicago Bears.
Jones put aside a lot of the uneasiness with his draft selection by having an electrifying punt return in Week 2 of the preseason against the Seahawks. Was this a sign of things to come? Did we find a suitable punt returner in the wake of Jakeem Grant? Not so fast, as Jones’ unfortunately had a pretty serious hamstring injury days leading up to their Week 1 bout against the 49ers. It took Jones until Week 4 against the Giants to see any action and fully return from injury. During this game, Jones did not see any offensive snaps and was relegated to special teams duties. The game was low scoring, and Velus had a crucial muffed punt on what could have been a game tying touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. Not a great NFL debut for Velus. Next game, Velus would get some redemption. In the second half, Velus was used in a red-zone package and took a pop pass from Justin Fields to the right pylon for a 9 yard touchdown against the Vikings. This was a huge play in the game and it really showed Jones’ ability to get to the edge and use his speed. After this game, Bears fans were feeling good about Velus. Maybe he would slowly be incorporated into the offense with more gadget plays and slowly work his way into a larger offensive role. Then, next Thursday night happened against the Washington Commanders. The Bears special team brass decided to let Velus keep returning punts, even after his muff against the Giants. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Commanders punted the ball down to the Chicago 9 yard line, where Velus was anxiously waiting to field. In the blustery wind, Velus was unable to locate the punt and it bounced off his shoulder and Washington subsequently fell on it. They would then score the go ahead touchdown two plays later to effectively end the game. This was brutal. Two opportunities to go on game tying/go ahead drives ruined by muffed punts. It doesn’t matter if you are a rookie or vet, these miscues can’t happen in those junctions of the game. Velus wouldn’t see any action the following week in a win against New England, but was able to generate 38 yards of offense that following week against the Cowboys in a losing effort. A lowlight of the Cowboys game was a dropped pass from Velus that landed right in his hands from a beautiful Fields throw. The Bears then traded for Chase Claypool of the Steelers at the trade deadline and the odd man out in terms of playing time seemed to be Velus Jones, as he was made a healthy inactive during last week’s bout against the Miami Dolphins.
At this point of the season, it seems Velus is going to have to really earn the trust of the coaching staff back to get on the field. In terms of his role on offense, he just isn’t enough of a polished receiver yet and can only be used on gadget plays until he develops better routes and hands. And it will be harder for him to find playing time with the addition of Claypool and Byron Pringle returning soon from IR. In terms of special teams, it will also be difficult for him to see the field considering he can’t field punts reliably. I would love for the Bears to use Velus on kick returns, but that seems to have gone to other players such as Ebner and Herbert. Looking ahead, I like how the Bears have shown that they are not afraid to scratch healthy players who are not playing well, even players they have drafted. I’m hoping Velus can get some confidence back and turn things around to prove his worth as a third round pick.