NAME: Velus Jones Jr.
HEIGHT: 5’11 3/8″
WEIGHT: 200 lbs
CLASS: Redshirt Super Senior
HOMETOWN: Saraland, Alabama
HIGH SCHOOL: Saraland
Coming out of Saraland High School in the Mobile suburbs, Velus Jones Jr. was a 3 star recruit, #79 WR, and #16 player in Alabama in the 247 composite rankings. He received offers from 20 FBS programs ranging from Georgia to Arkansas State before visiting four campuses: Oklahoma, Michigan, Tennessee, and USC. Despite experts projecting him as a Sooner, Jones committed to the Trojans. After a redshirt year in 2016, Jones took over as USC’s primary kick returner, a role he flourished in en route to 1,947 kick return yards in 3 seasons. The production as a receiver never quite came, though. He flirted with the portal after his most productive year as a receiver in 2019, only to return and reel in 6 more receptions. With 36 college catches to his name, Jones re-entered the portal in December 2019, this time following through on a reunion with Tee Martin, his primary USC recruiter and (at the time) Tennessee’s WR coach.
The move paid off, as Jones nearly equaled his best season as a Trojan as a newly minted Volunteer. Still lacking the production of other, bigger names, Jones utilized his extra year of eligibility to return in 2021 and racked up more receptions (62), yards (807), and TDs (7) than he had in the previous four years combined. His efforts led to a chance to take his college career full circle – an invite to the Senior Bowl, played in his childhood backyard.
GAMES WATCHED: 2021 – Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia
For an explanation of Alex’s grading scale, refer to this article.
Route Running – 45 (Fringe Average): Jones isn’t a particularly crisp route runner from what I saw. He rounds off a lot of breaks on his routes and doesn’t have the hip sink to really explode in and out of the breaks he does make. I thought his best route was the simplest one: a seam route from the slot.
Separation – 40 (Below Average): Laterally, Jones really doesn’t create a ton of separation. I noticed on out-breaking routes and slants that corners typically don’t have much trouble hanging with him, which also limited his targets due to Hendon Hooker’s hesitancy to throw into tighter windows. Vertically, however, Jones has speed that I’d quantify as a tier or two below game-breaking, which usually gives him a fair bit of leeway downfield.
Ball Skills – 40 (Below Average): Jones has a little bit of Chase Claypool in him, in that he jumps to make catches far more frequently than I think is necessary. Some of that was due to inconsistent ball placement from his QB, but sometimes he’d take even a small hop to make sure his body stayed in front of the ball. I didn’t notice a ton of reps where Jones extended out from his frame to make a catch, which will be a limitation as a pro.
Downfield Ability – 50 (Average): As I mentioned before, Jones’ speed gives him an edge as a downfield threat, which I think will be his primary usage as an offensive player. However, this grade stays in the average range because of some issues making contested catches – if CBs are able to run with Jones, he often won’t be making a catch downfield.
Run After Catch – 50 (Average): For such a decorated return man, I was really expecting a bit more here. Every now and then, there’s flashes – three or four missed tackles here, a couple angle breakers there. But there’s also plenty of times where Jones is unable to evade the first defender to come at him, even in situations that I thought were favorable.
Contested Catch – 40 (Below Average): Really not much to go off of here, as Jones’ route tree and offensive system were generally designed to get him looks in space. Based on the type of receiver he is, I don’t foresee this becoming a strength for him at any point. Not a negative, but it’s just not the way he plays the game.
Versatility – 60 (Above Average): The number one reason I think Jones will be drafted is the returner upside. He’s one of, if not the, best one in this year’s class. I also think he has plenty of ability as a gunner, which will up the value a bit as well. As a pure wide receiver, I think he’s going to be slot limited because of a general lack of physicality and the way his frame is.
Release – 55 (Above Average): Jones has nice short area burst, which gives him quite a bit of room to work with off the line. There wasn’t an abundance of reps against press coverage while at Tennessee, but his usage as a slot receiver in the NFL means he likely won’t face many in the future.
Frame – 50 (Average): 5’11 3/8″ is a bit small, but 200 lbs is a bit above average, according to Kent Lee Platte’s RAS calculator. It evens out to an average build without much to write home about, although it does make me wonder if he could be in line for a dash of gadget work in the right system.
Blocking – 40 (Below Average): Again, just not the type of receiver he’s built to be. A lot of his time is spent staying in front of defenders without actually engaging them. Once he does engage, it’s usually only for a second or two before his opponent is able to dislodge. Every now and then he’ll keep someone out of a play or throw a key shoulder downfield, but it’s not going to be the highlight of his game.
Red Flags – 10/10: Little bit on the older side (will be a 25 year old rookie), so a few of the more progressive teams will have him off the board. Not something I’m overly concerned about given his low usage numbers in college.
Final Grade (w/o RAS): 5.11
Round Grade: 6th
Summary: Jones’ profile reminds me a lot of Chargers WR and kick returner Joe Reed, who was a fifth round pick in 2020 for a Chargers team that had struggled with the returner position since Darren Sproles. Reed was underdeveloped as a receiver with a breakout year as a senior, but 5 kick return touchdowns in college gave him enough value to get drafted and hang around on the back end of a roster. Jones only has 2 touchdowns to Reed’s 5, but his skills as a special teamer are undeniable and will be the main allure for whichever team drafts him come April. Beyond special teams though, I really struggle to see a role for Jones in the NFL. He’s probably good for one or two long touchdowns on busted coverages a year thanks to blazing speed, but that’s really it. He’s not an overly refined route runner or separator, nor does he excel as a contested catch artist.
Players like Jones typically seem to have one of two careers, in my experience. Either their returning prowess carries over and they stick on rosters as core special teamers, or they struggle and their pro team finds another return man and cuts bait. The former, like now Chargers returner Andre Roberts, can stick in the league for 10+ years – Roberts is 33 and just finished his 12th season, despite playing for 8 different teams in that span. He’s only ever caught more than 50 passes twice, and hasn’t had more than 15 receptions in a season since 2014. The latter, like Joe Reed, find themselves on roster bubbles as early as year 1 or 2.
It remains to be seen which category Jones falls into. I think there’s still a bit of room to grow as a receiver – despite being in his sixth year of college, he really hasn’t had an abundance of game reps. There are technical strides he can make. But do you want to take that bet on a 25 year old rookie or a 21 year old one? I think whoever drafts Jones will be doing so to shore up a dismal kick return game, and if he’s forced into a role as a receiver, then they’ll bite the bullet and see how it goes.
Follow Alex on Twitter @alexkatson.