Green Bay Packers fans are calling for a complete overhaul of their special teams unit. After last season, who can blame them? One of the team’s latest workouts, former Tennessee receiver Velus Jones Jr., could be the solution to their return game issues. According to Jones’ Instagram post last week, he made the trip to Green Bay, making him the fifth receiver prospect who has been confirmed to meet with the Packers this month.
Here’s what you need to know about the First-Team All-SEC return man:
Jones, who grew up in the Mobile, Alabama area, was originally recruited to USC by coach Tee Martin, who worked as a receivers coach and offensive coordinator while Jones was with the Trojans program. Martin would leave in 2019 to become the assistant head coach and receivers coach at Tennessee, where Jones would transfer to a year later.
The connection to Martin receivers on the Packers’ roster is already very strong. Martin coached Randall Cobb at Kentucky when the now slot receiver transitioned from quarterback to receiver. Martin is also the father of 2020 third-round pick Amari Rodgers, the only receiver on the team whose contract goes beyond the 2022 NFL season. While Martin, now with the Baltimore Ravens, didn’t coach Jones last year, he was instrumental in bringing Jones to separate programs.
Due to the NCAA granting a sixth year of eligibility for any player who participated in the 2020 season, Jones is a sixth-year senior who already holds a master’s degree, an agricultural leadership, education and communications degree that he earned last December. A late-breakout offensively, Jones mostly played in the slot for the Volunteers offensively and did not begin the 2021 season as a full-time starter for the team.
After recording 628 kick return yards (including a touchdown) and 272 punt return yards, Jones was named the SEC’s co-special teams player of the year for the 2021 season. For the entirety of his college football career, including his stops at both USC and Tennessee, Jones registered 2,973 career kick return yards, though 2021 was his only season returning punts at the college level.
To put that into perspective, he had more than twice as many kick return yards in his six years of college football than he had receiving yards (1,434.) As a receiver, Jones has some plus traits, including his explosiveness off of the line of scrimmage and hand fighting downfield. He is solid in and out of his breaks and his 6’0”, 204-pound frame packs some lower body power to go along with his 4.31-second 40-second long-speed.
The fact that Jones had such a lack of offensive production as a sixth-year player should be mentioned immediately as a red flag. Had Jones been a member of the 2021 draft class, which he would have been prior to the NCAA’s ruling for sixth-year eligibility, Jones would only have recorded a single 100-yard receiving game in his college career. Fortunately for him, he was able to hit that mark three times in 2021, raising his stock to where it is today.
Beyond his age and experience, his offense makes it somewhat difficult to evaluate his talent and is one reason why he may be so raw around the edges. A lot of his production came out of the slot on screens, which is why he averaged just 12 yards per reception at the college level. Tennessee runs a variation of the Art Briles offense that features very wide splits by its wideouts and has receivers “running” dead routes, which are essentially telling one side of the field to take a break for a play. This is also, to a lower degree, an issue with Arkansas’ offense. The Packers also brought in Razorbacks receiver Treylon Burks, a potential first-round pick, for a visit this offseason.
Despite running a blazing fast 40-yard dash time, Jones looks much faster with the ball in his hand than when he’s trying to create separation downfield. When he was running crossers, he didn’t look like a 4.3 speed guy. His frame is also something that looks better on paper, as he is just an okay blocker.
Jones is a very interesting prospect in that he is clearly a special kick returner, but his role on offense is not clearly defined. Built like a running back with the speed of an Olympian, he is still very raw for a sixth-year senior who is already 24 years old. Tennessee clearly tried to do its best to feed him in 2021 when they realized the damage he could do in the screen game, but it’s worth thinking about him as a smaller version of a Cordarrelle Patterson instead of as a true receiver. At least early on, his touches will need to be manufactured, which is maybe not the route you want to go offensively when you have a back-to-back MVP under center.
Based on his special teams value and his measurables, even with his lack of production and limited skillset, Jones should be a player who is taken on Day 3 of the draft and starts as a kick returner immediately for a team. If he doesn’t manage to win a battle for a kick return position in camp, though, he may be one of the 2022 draft picks who finds themselves on the practice squad in September.