Velus (pronounced VAY-lus) Jones Jr.’s path to the 2022 NFL Draft went through Alabama, Southern California, and Tennessee. It took until his sixth collegiate season to earn a consistent starting role, but the lull was worth it. Jones patiently waited for his opportunity to showcase his talents, resulting in a scouting report full of potential. How early will he hear his name called in April, joining Jauan Jennings (2020 seventh-rounder) and Josh Palmer (2021 third-rounder) as the third Tennessee WR drafted in the last three years?
Velus Jones Jr. NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: Tennessee
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 5’11 1/2″
- Weight: 204 pounds
- Wingspan: 74 1/4″
- Arm: 31″
- Hand: 9 3/4″
Velus Jones Jr. Scouting Report
It isn’t common to have a sixth-year senior with NFL appeal. Plus, Jones will be 25 years old by the time his rookie season begins, making him one of the oldest prospects in this class. Nevertheless, teams will look at Jones in the later rounds due to his physical ability and versatility.
Despite his age, the Tennessee WR actually has a lot of tread left on the tires. He hauled in 120 receptions in his six-year career. Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns led the FBS with 148 … in 2021 alone. Thus, while Jones is older, his body has taken far less of a beating than most of his 2022 classmates.
Now, his 120 receptions are not all that impressive, but he has returned 124 kickoffs, 18 punts, and carried the ball 15 times in his career. Jones is a legitimate receiver — albeit a limited one — and a deadly kick returner, owning versatility NFL franchises desire. They fill two positions with one player, saving money and allowing resources for other needs.
Jones returned punts for the first time in 2021, but he averaged 14.7 yards per attempt. That was tied for third among players with at least 15 punt returns. On kick returns, Jones ranked 19th at 26.6 yards per attempt. In his career, Jones returned two kicks for touchdowns, a 101-yarder in 2019 and a 95-yarder last year.
Jones’ Player Profile
Jones’ speed and dual-phase ability are what will get him on a roster and keep him in the league. He can burst through lanes as a returner and blow by DBs as a receiver all the same with the sort of speed you can’t teach.
Although Jones’ 3,000+ kick-return yards with no muffed attempts is intriguing in its own right, he is a legitimate offensive weapon. On 162 career targets, Jones recorded just 9 dropped passes, as he has some of the surest hands in the class. Jones spent most of his time in the slot — 80% of his snaps in 2021 –, and that is where he best projects to the NFL.
He will usually face a free release there, allowing him to get downfield unimpeded. Jones ran a blazing 4.31 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine (fourth among all positions), as well as a 33″ vertical and a 10’1″ broad. According to Zebra Technology, Jones clocked the second-fastest time by an offensive player at the Senior Bowl (21.75 mph).
Yet, his play speed is actually quicker. While his long speed can blow the top off a defense, his acceleration from the line of scrimmage and from a stop is a sight to behold.
More than just speed
Speaking of the Senior Bowl, Jones was lights out at practice and during the all-star game. Due to not being the best route runner, Jones has learned to harness his speed, beating defenders at the stem of routes and off the line.
In 1-on-1s, he routinely came down with the pass, flashing excellent body control and catch-point ability. Additionally, Jones showed his awareness around the sidelines, keeping his feet in bounds.
In the Senior Bowl itself, Jones caught all 4 of his targets for 53 yards, leading the American Team in both categories. He didn’t come down with a touchdown, but he owns one of the better highlights.
After taking an inside release upfield, Jones gave a hesitation move to the inside before exploding into a corner route. While he had to slow down for the ball, he kept his leverage over the CB and boxed him out, hauling in the 32-yard reception.
Areas for improvement
Like every player with NFL aspirations, Jones has a few areas of his game that he can build on. As mentioned before, he’s an older prospect. And despite his age, Jones hasn’t produced a great deal at the college level. He’s never surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in a single season. In fact, his career-high was 807 yards in 2021.
In his four years at USC (2016-2019), Jones recorded just 347 yards. Still, some of that can be attributed to Michael Pittman Jr., Amon-Ra St. Brown, Drake London, and Tyler Vaughns sitting in front of him.
At Tennessee, the Vols manufactured touches for their new WR2. Jones’ average depth of target (aDOT) fell to 7.1 in 2021, with Tennessee utilizing him on screen passes and routes near the line of scrimmage. Of his 13.0 yards per reception, 8.3 came after the catch.
Now, part of that role was because Tennessee wanted to get their top playmaker the ball. The other part was because Jones’ route tree is severely limited. If he lined up on the outside, it was typically for a screen-type pass, hitch, or some sort of deep route (corner, post, go). Due to his speed, DBs played off coverage, allowing him space to work. But he was hardly targeted on 10+ yard throws outside the numbers — where the true outside receivers thrive.
Jones often rounds off his breaks and cuts when running routes. While he can win at the stem, it’s almost exclusively on speed. Now, at the Senior Bowl, he showed much better use of head and shoulder fakes, but those instances were few and far between in his college tape. With a lack of deception and route tree diversity, Jones is solely a vertical and screen-game threat from Day 1.
Furthermore, Jones uses too many steps to get through a route and can look choppy overall. That won’t cut it at the next level, where timing is key. If you take more steps than necessary, you may not be ready for the ball when the QB looks your way.
There isn’t much to discuss with Jones’ release package as he seldom saw press coverage. And when he did, cornerbacks usually didn’t put hands on him. That won’t be the case in the NFL, with the talent pool far more advanced.
Scouting report overview
The uncoachable tools are there with Jones. His speed, hands, vision, and body control are stellar. So, if a team believes Jones is worth the investment at receiver, he could feasibly grow into a more well-rounded weapon. Route-running technique and releases can be taught, but Jones isn’t new to the position, so his ceiling may be lower than a younger, more raw prospect.
Still, Jones brings a willingness to block with good contact balance. Moreover, he isn’t one to back down to trash-talking DBs and has no issues lowering his pads into bigger defenders with the ball in his hands. That is the type of feistiness you love in a playmaker.
Jones will have growing pains as a receiver, and it may be a while before he contributes steadily on offense. But his special-teams versatility and potential should be enough for a team to take a shot on during Day 3 of the draft.
The path from high school to college
Hailing from Mobile, Alabama, the Jones family moved to Saraland when Velus was eight. He began playing football at four years old and said his late grandmother Linda (who sadly passed in 2012) inspires him on his journey through life.
Jones came into his own as a junior at Saraland High School. He corralled 51 receptions for 1,118 yards (21.9 ypr) with 9 touchdowns. His play helped lead Saraland to the 2014 Class 6A State Championship, in which they lost 36-31. Jones hauled in a 52-yard TD and a 2-point conversion in the contest, highlighting his concentration when the lights are the brightest.
He produced yet another solid campaign as a senior in 2015. Jones caught 48 passes for 945 yards (19.7 ypr) and 10 touchdowns, adding 172 rushing yards with 2 TDs and 2 more scores on special teams. The star WR earned praise for his final year, being named to the USA Today All-Alabama first team.
247Sports’ composite ratings pegged Jones as a three-star recruit and the 16th-best player in Alabama. He received 20 offers, including Georgia, Florida, and Oklahoma, but Jones decided to take his talents to Southern California.
“It has a lot to do with the bond I have with Tee [Martin],” Jones told AL.com after his commitment. “The fact that he is from Mobile is big. I know he will look out for me, and I feel very comfortable with him being my coach. He talked to my dad last night, and he was comfortable as well. I just wanted to go ahead and get it done.”
Jones’ career at USC and Tennessee
That bond with Martin, USC’s WRs coach from 2012-2018, didn’t lead to much playing time. After redshirting his true freshman year, Jones played over 100 snaps in only one season (2018).
His time wasn’t completely wasted with the Trojans, though, as Jones earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology. Martin left USC for an assistant head coach position at Tennessee, bringing Jones along in 2020.
Jones immediately saw more playing time but played second fiddle to Josh Palmer and saw passes from Jarrett Guarantano, Harrison Bailey, and J.T. Shrout. However, with Palmer onto the NFL and Hendon Hooker taking over under center, Jones was primed for his long-awaited breakout campaign. He instantly joined Tennessee’s record books, coming in second for both single-season combined return yards (900) and all-purpose yards (1,722).
The Tennessee WR’s play garnered 2021 first-team All-SEC and 2021 SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year honors. Jones also thrived off the field, earning his master’s degree in agricultural leadership, education, and communications in December.
Jones’ NFL Draft ascension
A lot of noise has been made of the New Orleans Saints hiring Tennessee WRs coach Kodi Burns. Burns joined the Vols last season and spoke about Jones in the spring, “You’re walking into a really young group. Velus Jones has stepped up and emerged at teaching these guys how to play and practice. … He’s really taken right after me as far as what I’m asking and teaching those young guys exactly what we’re looking for.”
During the season, Burns also added, “Confidence with Velus is not an issue at all. He really does believe he’s good. He’s almost like a running back with the ball in his hands. A veteran guy that’s played a lot of football. Excited to see him continue to grow.”
Jones gave the respect right back, stating, “I love the realness about him [Burns]. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything and most definitely is going to get the best out of us.”
The Saints have six picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, one in each of the first, second, third (compensatory), fourth, fifth, and seventh rounds. With how he performed at the Senior Bowl and Combine, I wouldn’t be surprised if New Orleans pulled the trigger on Jones in Rounds 4 or 5. Even if the Saints aren’t the team to select Jones, he shouldn’t fall past Round 6 due to his aforementioned speed and versatility.
Jones’ road to the NFL has tested his patience, but he won’t have to wait much longer to hear his name called in April.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Velus Jones Jr.
Positives: Terrific vertical receiver who has done exceptionally well in the lead-up to the draft. Displays outstanding awareness, battles defensive backs, and works to come away with the difficult catch. Tracks the pass in the air, adjusts to errant throws, and extends his hands to make the reception away from his frame. Works routes and keeps the play in bounds after the catch. Effective return specialist.
Negatives: Has short arms. Will be 25 years old this season. Must improve his footwork running routes.
Analysis: Jones is a physically talented wideout who showed continual improvement in his game and had a breakout senior season. He’s a big-play threat who can see double duty returning kicks or punts. Jones has enough ability to eventually line up as a No. 2 receiver on Sundays.
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