As one NFL season ends, the next is set to begin with the 2022 NFL Draft on the horizon. In our latest installment of scouting reports to help guide your fantasy football teams, we look at Tennessee WR Velus Jones Jr. What are Jones’ strengths and weaknesses, which teams could be potential landing spots for him in the NFL Draft, and what is his fantasy outlook?
Velus Jones Jr. NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: Tennessee
- Current Year: Sixth-year Senior
- Height: 5′ 11 1/2″
- Weight: 203
- Wingspan: 74 1/4″
- Arm: 31″
- Hand: 9 3/4″
Velus Jones Jr.’s fantasy football scouting report
How many ways can a player bring value to our team? That’s one of the primary questions NFL teams ask themselves when scouting a player. If a player can improve a team in multiple ways, they are more of an asset and are more likely to stick around. This is why Jones will stick on an NFL roster despite likely not having high draft capital.
Not only is Jones a capable receiver, but he might be the best returner of the 2022 NFL Draft class. In his six years — yes, six years — Jones recorded almost 3,000 kick return yards while attending both USC (2016-2019) and Tennessee (2020-2021).
As you would expect from a successful collegiate returner, Jones is fast. If given a lane, he’s going to burn you. This is what will keep him on a 53-man roster. He brings an element of speed you can’t teach and instantly makes your roster better.
For fantasy, unless you play in leagues that reward return yards, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that fantasy managers care about is what Jones does on the offensive side of the ball. This is also where things get a bit trickier from an evaluation standpoint.
Jones has traits that make him a valuable receiver
From an offensive point of view, Jones’ main attributes are his speed and hands. Off the line, as you would expect, he is lightning quick. It takes little time for him to accelerate and stack a corner. As the saying goes, “if he’s even, he’s leavin’.” This speed is how he creates separation both off the line and in the middle of the route.
As noted, Jones’ hands are great. In the film I was able to watch, I did not see a dropped pass. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen, but it simply is not a massive issue littered over his film.
Jones also showed an ability to control his body on the sidelines and get his feet in bounds, staying cognizant of where he is in relation to the sidelines. PFN Senior Draft Director Cam Mellor noted this while at the Senior Bowl earlier in the month.
Jones needs to refine his game
For a player to have been in college long enough to get his masters, never crossing the 1,000-yard threshold is concerning. In his four years at USC, Jones recorded just 347 yards. However, USC has been loaded with WR talent, making it difficult for Jones to break through. It took until his 2021 season at Tennessee to put it all together, recording 62 receptions for 807 yards and 7 touchdowns.
So why the sudden difference? The change came in the way he was utilized at Tennessee. Despite the lesser QB play from Kedon Slovis to Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton, Tennessee manufactured touches for Jones. He was heavily involved in quick passes behind the line of scrimmage.
Tennessee got Jones the ball in space, not due to his route running
One of their top ways to get Jones the ball was to stack him and another receiver on the far boundary. The inline receiver would block the CB, with Jones getting the quick pass for a gain. Plays like this are why Jones averaged 12.8 yards per reception at Tennessee, with 8.1 coming after the catch on average. Also, Tennessee brought him into the slot, which is where he projects in the NFL. Jones spent over 80% of his time inside last season.
This also helped to hide one of Jones’ issues, albeit a rather large one. He has quite a ways to go as a route runner. For one, Jones does not possess a developed route tree. On the boundary, it’s either a hitch, deep post, or a vertical route. Most of the time, he was out there for the quick pass pseudo screen.
At the stem is where Jones is the weakest. He offers little to sell his route to the DB. Very rarely would you see him get width with his outside leg to sell a different angle and use a head/shoulder fake to get the DB to change their hips. Those little nuances are how high-level receivers get separation. When you just run a route or bend it off at the stem, NFL DBs won’t fall for it.
It worked in college because DBs were playing off coverage against him due to the vertical threat his speed presents. Even on his TD against Alabama, despite the ball being on the 11-yard line, the corner was giving him an 8-yard cushion. Jones’ speed is what gains him separation, not his route running.
Jones’ path to fantasy relevancy is shaky
All of this can and will be coached in the NFL, assuming Jones is viewed as more than a returner. The speed, hands, and body control are there, as is a willingness to play a bit nasty when blocking or giving a CB an extra pop at the whistle.
Jones has been a steady riser in draft circles due to his performance at the Senior Bowl, and this should continue assuming he tests well at the NFL Combine … assuming we have an NFL Combine to scout. In the latter rounds of fantasy, where we are betting on profiles and talent, Jones makes sense as a player who will make the 53-man roster.
There is a path where he turns into the next Van Jefferson, as long as we see a marked improvement in his route running to get him to a similar level. Take a shot on the speed of Jones in fantasy drafts and hope a team is patient enough to work through the growing pains at receiver.
The issue is we don’t know how long this will take, nor how long a team is willing to wait for this improvement to come. In all likelihood, in most standard leagues, Jones won’t be on the fantasy radar this season. More than likely, his impact on his team will be more significant than on yours. The goal would be for Jones to build on this and earn trust and more snaps as he refines his game — those snaps will lead to targets and, for us, fantasy points.
Potential landing spots for Jones Jr.
With the NFL Draft closing in, which teams make the most sense for Jones as projected landing spots? Based on his scouting report, fantasy managers should keep their eye on these NFL franchises come draft day.
The Lions still need quite a bit of help at receiver. Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, and KhaDarel Hodge are all set to become free agents in March. This leaves Amon-Ra St. Brown and Quintez Cephus as the primary options for Jared Goff (not including TE T.J. Hockenson).
Adding Jones gives their offense a boost of speed while also making life easier on Goff, allowing Jones to generate yards after the catch on passes of a shorter average depth of target (aDOT). While he would start as a WR4, there is a path where Jones could see utilization quickly in Detroit. Knowing what he brings as a returner should endear him to head coach Dan Campbell.
New Orleans Saints
What will the New Orleans Saints look like in 2022? What will the offense look like without Sean Payton? Who will be under center? Will Michael Thomas be back, and how close will he look to the receiver we last saw back in 2020? What about the status of Alvin Kamara? Oh, and how do they handle being a projected $76.16 million over the salary cap?
As I said, it’s a bit of a mess in the Big Easy. Tre’Quan Smith is set to become an unrestricted free agent, while Deonte Harris is a restricted FA. Marquez Callaway has shown signs of being a No. 2, but New Orleans needs someone on the interior. Jones could fit the mold.
While unpolished, Jones was also unguardable at the Senior Bowl. His speed brings an element most teams are not ready for defensively. Given the need, watch out for New Orleans to look at Jones later in the draft.
New England Patriots
New England is known for manufacturing touches in short aDOT roles. The Patriots make too much sense as a landing spot for Jones. With Nelson Agholor as the field stretcher and N’Keal Harry, well, a disappointment, Jones could work on the interior in the slot and possibly fill role Jakobi Meyers’ role if he leaves as a restricted free agent.
Bill Belichick loves guys who can contribute in a multitude of ways, which should place Jones on his radar. Given Mac Jones’ quick decision-making abilities and accuracy, when Velus Jones is able to gain separation on a quick slant, he knows there is a chance for substantial YAC due to his rapid pace. Jones would fit right in for the Patriots on offense and special teams.