Asked about the Bears receiving corps by a reporter earlier this month, third-year pro Darnell Mooney praised rookie Velus Jones Jr.
"When he gets the ball, y'all are going to see," Mooney said. "He can fly. He can be a playmaker for sure for us."
Jones, who was selected by the Bears in the third round of the draft out of Tennessee, was thrilled to hear what Mooney had to say about him.
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"It means a lot," Jones said. "It shows me that my teammates believe in me, they have faith in me and they know I've got their backs. That feels great to hear that from a vet that has proven himself already and will continue to prove himself. It definitely feels good to get that type of compliment. It just makes you want to keep striving for greatness."
Jones achieved greatness last year at Tennessee. Playing his sixth season of college football, the 6-foot, 204-pounder more than doubled his career totals with 62 receptions for 807 yards and seven touchdowns. In addition, he was named SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year after averaging 27.3 yards with one TD on 23 kickoff returns and 15.1 yards on 18 punt returns.
Jones appeared in a total of 61 college games with 21 starts in four seasons at USC (2016-19) and two at Tennessee (2020-21).
Entering the draft, the Bears viewed Jones as an explosive receiver and return specialist whose rare combination of size and speed enabled him to consistently gain yards after the catch.
Built more like a running back than a receiver, Jones ran a 4.31 in the 40 at the NFL Combine, the fourth fastest time among all participants and second among receivers.
"First thing you see is his speed," said Bears receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. "When you run 4.31, it'll open up your eyes to a lot of things. But secondly, with the ball in his hands. He does a lot of things, makes a lot of explosive plays with the ball in his hands. And the last thing I would say is playing multiple positions. You can play him in the slot, put him outside, have him coming out of the backfield.
"He does a lot of different things to help our team, and he's really good on special teams. A really good return guy-as a punt returner, kick returner-running down on kickoffs and making tackles, he does it all. He's a well-rounded player."
Although Jones has yet to make his NFL debut, he has already been envisioning himself excelling in the league.
"I like to manifest a lot," he said. "Before I go to sleep, looking over plays, I like to picture myself running a route or catching a touchdown. I can picture a lot of great things this season, even on certain plays or certain routes, thrown by Justin [Fields]. I definitely know that I'm not going to let them down. I'm definitely going to be that player they drafted, that guy who's good with yards after the catch, the guy that makes plays out of nothing. I'm definitely going to bring that to the table."
Jones made major strides throughout the course of the offseason, emerging as a regular contributor with the first-team offense in practice.
"I had a good amount of balls thrown my way," he said. "That's just boosted my confidence level in this offense. That's a good feeling."
Jones refined his route running during OTA and minicamp practices, particularly getting in and out of his breaks.
"I've just really been focusing on dropping my hips," Jones said. "Cuts are way easier when you're actually focused on dropping your hips and having your chest out over your knees. That's something I've really been working on. I've been really improving on that, and it shows on film when we watch over it, how quickly I'm getting in and out of cuts. I feel like that's a huge advantage on my side, just knowing what I can do when I get the ball in my hands. So, I'm going to keep working on that."
Just as important as his technique is the rapport that Jones is building with Fields. The rookie receiver and second-year quarterback have been forming a cohesiveness, in part because their lockers are side-by-side at Halas Hall.
"Honestly, it's been a good time," Jones said. "Not even just football-wise [but] him sitting right next to me, us having normal conversations and stuff, picking each other's brains. It makes it a whole lot easier. I feel like that's part of the connection as well, knowing who your quarterback is outside of football. That makes things much easier when I go to practice as well.
"He's depending on me. A lot of guys are depending on me. I'm going to have their backs and do what I can to keep stride in this offense."