Jones Jr. Is More Than A Returner | NFL Draft
By Adam Aniba
The '21 draft class features some true burners at receiver, but also a few that could make an immediate impact on special teams. Tennessee receiver Velus Jones Jr was one of the most dynamic kick returners in the country, but his ability as a receiver in 2021 should have teams interested on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.
Velus Jones Jr
6'1" 195 lbs | WR | Tenn
Draft Proj 4th Rd
Career USC/Tenn (59 games) 120 rec for 1,434 yds & 11 tds (12.0 yrd avg)
*Kick Ret- 22 att for 2,973 yds & 2 tds (24.4 KRA)
'21 (13 games ) 62 rec for 807 yds & 7 tds (13.0 yrd avg)
*Kick Ret- 23 att for 628 yds & 1 tds (27.3 KRA)
Velus Jones Jr attended Saraland High School in Alabama as a highly decorated receiver. During his junior year, he hauled in 51 receptions 1,118 and 9 TD's with a 21.9 yds per rec average, leading his team to the 6A State Companionship game.
His role expanded his senior year, accounting for 945 yards receiving, 172 yards rushing and 2 TD's on the ground and another 2 scores on KR/PR. He was named USA Today All-Alabama 1st-Team, AL.com Super All-State first team, Alabama Sportswriters Association All-State Class 6A 1st-Team and All-Coastal Alabama 1st-Team team.
Jones Jr committed to play for USC in '16, but was redshirted his first season as a Trojan. Over the next 3 seasons, he played in 35 games and was the primary kick returner (81 KR att 1,947 yards for 2 TD's). In '17 he was named to the All-Pac-12 1st Team and the All-Pac-12 2nd Team during the next 2 seasons.
Unfortunately, snaps at WR were hard to come by and Jones Jr. only recorded 36 rec for 347 yards and 1 TD during his time at USC. In the 3 year span, Jones Jr was extremely durable, but continued to find himself buried on the depth chart.
Jones Jr. took advantage of his time in the classroom, earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology and made the decision to transfer to the University of Tennessee for the '20 season. His ability as a kick returner and a slot receiver were underutilized his first year as a Volunteer though.
He took advantage of the extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic and it paid off when Josh Heupel took over as head coach in '21. The installation of Heupel's up-tempo spread based passing scheme, utilized Jones Jr's speed and ability to gain yards after the catch.
Jones Jr's '21 season was his most prolific as a receiver and on special teams as a kick returner. His primary role as the Volunteer's slot receiver, was to work in the short & intermediate passing game and was a frequent target on comeback routes/screen passes. He had some solid reps when he was a target on deep passing routes as well, but his route tree responsibilities were limited by Heupel's scheme.
On special teams, the Volunteer's receiver displays the type of strait line speed, ability to redirect on a dime and the patience needed to have success as a kick returner on the next level. Jones Jr. shows no hesitation in the open filed, finishing '21 with a 27.3 yards per kick return. His age could turn some teams off (25 yrs old), but Jones Jr excelled when he became the focal point of the Volunteer's passing game.
Jones Jr. started to receive more national attention, after he clocked a 4.31 second forty yard dash time at the NFL Combine and looked loose & fluid in drills.
Extremely fast and effective in tempo offense/quick game
Plug & Play Kick Returner on the next level (career 2,973 ret yards 24.4 per KR)
Displays the ability to stop on a dime, causing frequent missed tackles
Soft hands with few career drops, displaying the ability to catch away from his frame
Willing blocker and made more than a few impressive downfield blocks in his career leading to scores
Ability to make defenders miss after initial contact in the SEC is notable
Older prospect (6 years of college)
Limited route tree responsibilities at USC/Tenn
Will need to work on functional strength, after relying on pure athleticism on the college level
Needs to work on gaining initial separation and focus on suddenness at the top of his routes
Will deal with more press on the next level, thus will need work on his counter moves
Still a work in progress as a full-time slot and should be eased into an offense in sub-packages
Jones Jr. has tremendous upside as a mid round prospect. His contribution in the return game can't be understated after he finished 2nd in the SEC in combined return yards (900 yards), but also had 1,722 All-Purpose yards which was 2nd in the SEC.
His 13.0 yards per reception average, with many receptions coming on short-intermediate routes is a testament to his ability to create YAC. When he gets a glimpse of daylight in the open filed, he's a house call waiting to happen.
The Volunteer WR's career year, led to him being elected to the '21 All-SEC First Team (AP, Coaches, Phil Steele) and SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year. Although a team could fall in love with the receivers' speed in the early rounds, the 4th round projection seems right.
Returners are less of a premium in the modem NFL, but a prospect such as Jones Jr has layers to his game. He can also be a valuable contributor from the slot and a deep threat on occasional go routes. With more development and patience, Jones Jr could be a still if availble in the 4th round.
*Games Watched- 09/11 vs PITT, 9/18 vs TN TECH, 9/25 vs UFL, 10/2 vs MIZZ, 10/9 vs S.CAR, 10/16 vs MISS, 10/23 vs ALA, 11/6 vs KY, 11/13 vs UGA, 11/20 vs S.ALA, 11/27 vs VAN and 12/30 vs PUR
*Team Fits- WAS, PHI, GB, SF, KC and Tenn