There are plenty of Chicago Bears that have something to prove in 2023, but some more than others. As we continue our series looking at the 10 Bears with the most to prove, we’ve reached number eight. At 10 was Kindle Vildor and number 9 was Braxton Jones.
8. Velus Jones
Of Ryan Poles’ first rookie class, Jones was, without question, the most disappointing. Expectations on Jones were unfair heading into his rookie season. A third round pick rarely makes a significant impact as a rookie, but Bears’ fans and the media raised expectations for Jones as he joined a wide receiver room lacking talent and needing a fast, big-play receiver.
Jones had the speed but didn’t show much in the big-play category as a rookie. Jones was an older rookie and blossomed late in college. Critics of the selection stated that Jones was a “man amongst boys” playing as a 24-year old his final year in college. Many of those critics are ready to take a victory lap, but it’s too early to write off Jones.
Jones showed some skill as a kick returner, but with that aspect of the game continuing to become less important, that certainly isn’t a reason to keep a roster spot, especially when Jones struggled so much as a punt returner, clearly the more valuable job of the two returning positions.
On offense, Jones scored two touchdowns on the season, both, in essence, on running plays (one was considered a shovel pass). Both came against the Vikings in different games, the first was a jet sweep where Jones used his speed to beat everyone to the pylon. His second touchdown came in the last game of the season. Jones grabbed the ball on an end around and showed some nifty footwork in traffic at the sidelines to stay in bounds before he broke past the defense and scored a 44-yard touchdown. Jones also had a nice catch against Buffalo in double coverage that resulted in an explosive play completion.
That makes for a nice paragraph, but unfortunately, that is also the summary of big plays that Jones made for the entire season. Jones had a few bad drops, struggled to grasp the playbook and found himself a healthy inactive for multiple games during the season. That is a hard task to accomplish with how weak the wide receiver group was last season.
With a beefed up wide receiver unit, Jones will be no better than WR4 if they are all healthy but could be as low as WR6 if he doesn’t improve. It’s not impossible that if Jones has a rotten training camp, the Bears could cut ties with him, but that’s highly doubtful being he’s still under contract for three years.
Jones needs to improve his play and find a role for himself in this offense. Perhaps Jones can find success as a gadget player on offense and a return man, but to do that, he needs to greatly improve as a punt returner, a job he lost last season. If Jones becomes more of an impact receiver, he’s going to have to find success in the intermediate passing game and not just either a shovel pass or go route guy.
This is a big year for Jones. He needs to show improvement in several different facets of the offense and special teams. He needs to prove to Matt Eberfuls and Ryan Poles that the guy they saw in the last game of the season (70 yards, 1 touchdown) is the guy who’s going to be there for 17 games in 2023.