Bears Send Firm Message on Velus Jones’ Future Ahead of OTAs

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Getty Bears wide receiver Velus Jones Jr.

Velus Jones Jr. has struggled to make an offensive impact for the Chicago Bears over his first two seasons. But if anything, the Bears seem more optimistic than ever about his potential to “change the game” — as their kickoff returner— in light of the NFL’s new kickoff rules for the 2024 season.

Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower shined a spotlight on Jones when discussing the new kickoff rules with media on May 11’s final day of rookie minicamp. The new rules — which Hightower helped propose — are designed to incentivize returns, eliminating fair catches and creating a “landing zone” in which returners can operate.

On kickoffs, teams will still kick from the 35-yard line, but all players on the kicking team aside from the kicker will line up at the opposing 40 while nine players on the receiving team — the non-returners — will stand between their own 30 and 35. Only the kicker and the two designated return specialists can move before either 1) a player touches the ball or 2) the ball hits the ground between the 20 and the goal line.

“You can only think about a guy like Velus Jones,” Hightower said Saturday. “A guy like that with his type of skill set, with the speed and the power that he has and he’s coming full speed ahead at you, it’s like a damn freight train running at you. And he’s going to get the opportunity to touch the ball three or four more times a game, and we all know he is a very dynamic player with the ball in his hand.”

Velus Jones Has Strong Career Average as Returner

Jones has not done much to justify his long-term roster case on offense. The 2022 third-round pick is a wide receiver who has netted just 281 scrimmage yards in 26 career games and has more carries (17) than receptions (11) in his first two years. He has also missed on a few big opportunities, including in 2023 when he dropped an easy touchdown from Justin Fields in Week 8’s blowout loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

That said, Jones has been strong throughout his career as the Bears’ kick returner.

Jones has averaged 27.4 yards on 38 career kickoff returns, putting him in the upper echelon of NFL kick returners over the past two seasons. He finished tied for third in average return yards among players who fielded at least nine kickoffs in 2023 and sixth in 2022 under the same criteria. He also had the fifth- and seventh-most total kickoff return yards in the league in 2023 and 2022, respectively.

Now, Jones has experienced his fair share of issues with ball security. He had two costly fumbles as a punt returner as a rookie in 2022 and, since then, has not received another opportunity to redeem himself in the role. He has not fumbled once as a kick returner, though — and the new rules should only help him continue that into 2024.

Will that alone be enough for Jones to keep his roster spot in 2024?

Will Jones Make Necessary Strides as WR in 2024?

The Bears may feel that Jones’ upside as a kick returner is enough to justify giving him one of the depth spots in their receiving rotation. The top of their receiving corps is much stronger in 2024 with the offseason additions of Keenan Allen and first-round rookie Rome Odunze. Jones also still has two more seasons left on his affordable rookie contract, costing just $1.72 million against the salary cap for the upcoming year.

Still, growth as a receiver would help Jones’ roster case tremendously.

The Bears have four presumed locks to make their roster at receiver between DJ Moore, Allen, Odunze and 2023 fourth-round pick Tyler Scott, but the remaining depth spots are up for grabs. Right now, Jones appears to have a good shot of claiming one, but he must distinguish himself in OTAs and training camp against the other roster hopefuls, which include Dante Pettis, Collin Johnson, Nsimba Webster and rookie Peter LeBlanc.

The Bears could also seek more receiving talent before camp begins in July. It is not out of the question to think they might want to add an affordable but experienced veteran to the group to operate in a rotational role. Hunter Renfrow, for instance, could make sense for the right price, and he would make more sense as a WR5 than Jones does.

The area where Jones can give himself an edge is his rushing utility. He had a nice rushing touchdown in the final game of his rookie season where he tiptoed down the sideline for a 42-yard score, but his rushing efforts have otherwise lacked much impact. Changing that — and proving he can be a multi-purpose weapon on offense — could be the key to Jones solidifying his place on the 2024 roster.

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