Velus Jones Jr. is looking to become the latest Tennessee receiver to make an impact in the NFL, following in the steps of Marquez Callaway, Jauan Jennings and Josh Palmer. The Alabama native was a late-bloomer in college, finally making an offensive splash in his final season as a sixth-year senior.
He now has a chance to make an instant-impact as a returner at the next level, while bringing some legitimate play-making ability to the offense as a third or fourth receiver.
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A former three-star prospect, Jones went all the way across the country to USC to begin his college career. While a Trojan, Jones was essentially limited to return duties, playing sparingly on offense over four seasons. He committed to Jeremy Pruitt as a transfer in 2020, finally with a chance to emerge as a receiver.
Jones played in a dreadful offense in 2020, but did offer some flashes late in Tennessee’s 3-7 COVID season. However, the hire of Josh Heupel changed everything for Jones, and the emergence of quarterback Hendon Hooker set everything off.
Jones returned to Tennessee for one final season, which looks brilliant now. He played inside and out, catching 62 passes for 807 yards. Jones scored seven touchdowns, and another as a kick returner. He had his best year as a returner, averaging over 27 yards per attempt.
Now with a full season of legitimate production on tape, Jones could go as early as the third round.
What Jones will bring to the NFL
This is an interesting evaluation for scouts, due to the limited production and offensive playing time over a six year period. Jones has obvious speed and athletic ability, but has been predictably knocked for a lack of polish as a receiver. Tennessee runs a fairly simple route tree under Heupel, so his route running is a natural question mark for evaluators. Heupel runs a version of Art Briles’ old Baylor attack, and those receivers each faced similar criticisms.
What he can definitely do is make plays with the ball in his hands. Shorter routes, screens — just getting the ball in his hands proved to be an effective strategy for Josh Heupel. Jones did make an impact down the field a few times, but wasn’t used as a traditional burner, despite the legitimate speed.
Jones’ path to sticking in the league will come on special teams, where he will be welcomed as a returner from day one. From there — as odd as it sounds about a 25 year old rookie — Jones is going to have to develop as a receiver and route runner to become an every-down player at the NFL level.
Draft Projection: Round 4