Like a lot of young people leaving college, Velus Jones Jr. is hoping he aced his interviews and waiting to see which prospective employer is going to give him a chance to get started in his chosen profession. But unlike most of his peers, Jones will find that out this week on national television.
The former Saraland High School star is expected to be selected in the NFL Draft, which starts on Thursday night, but Jones doesn’t have any insight into which of the 32 NFL teams might be inclined to pick him.
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“I feel like that’s the beauty about it – the uncertainty, the not knowing,” Jones said, “and I feel like that’s the exciting part because when you get that call, your life will be changed forever. But it’s up to you to pursue that change and take advantage of your opportunity once you get where you’re going.”
Hadley Engelhard, who with Chad Berger serve as Jones’ agents, said the wide receiver is projected to be selected on the second night of the draft. That would make Jones a second- or third-round choice on Friday night.
“He’s been compared to both Deebo Samuel and Cordarrelle Patterson,” Engelhard said, “as a player that’s a receiver, a returner, a player that can do multiple things on the offensive side of the ball whether it’s run the jet sweep, run the wildcat, screen passes – kind of that bigger, running-back style of receiver that both Cordarrelle and Deebo are.”
An All-State selection at Saraland High School in 2014 and 2015, Jones played three full seasons at Southern Cal and two more at Tennessee.
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Jones caught 62 passes for 807 yards and seven touchdowns, averaged 27.3 yards per kickoff return and 15.1 yards per punt return (the second-best figure in the nation) in the 2021 season, when he was the SEC’s Co-Special Teams Player of the Year. His 2,973 career kickoff-return yards rank 14th in NCAA FBS history.
Jones’ production meant he was going to be drafted this year. But when he ran a 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine on March 3, Jones really had the attention of the decision-makers on the league’s 32 teams.
Jones said he’d met with all the teams via Zoom calls and visited the team facilities of many of them over the previous seven weeks.
“It’s definitely busy,” Jones said, “but it depends on how you want to look at it. I look at as a blessing.”
Out of all those teams, Jones said there wasn’t one he was hoping would not pick him.
“I’m fortunate to be in this situation,” Jones said. “I’ve been playing football since I was 4 years old. I’m blessed anywhere I go. Just grateful for the opportunity. Like I said, many would kill to be in a situation like this, and so no matter where I go, I’m going to be grateful that they believed in me enough as a franchise to invest in me.”
Even though he’s been working and waiting for this moment for years, Jones said on Wednesday it didn’t seem quite real to him yet.
“I feel like it’s truly a blessing,” Jones said. “Sometimes I’ll be asking myself, like, God really chose me out of millions of kids that’ve played this game and how fortunate I am. This will teach you to never take nothing for granted. I know a lot of people would kill to be in this situation, so really take advantage of it. Like I said, not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a situation like this, so give God the glory for the journey, for everything – the adversity, too – because without him I wouldn’t be here.
“But honestly, it really hasn’t hit me yet. I guess it will take for me actually going down to Gulf Shores. That’s where I’m having my watch party. But it really hasn’t hit me yet. I’m just living in the moment right now.”
Jones will watch the 87th NFL Draft at a beach house in Gulf Shores.
“By the beach,” Jones said, “get away from everything and enjoy this moment with close friends and family.”
The NFL Draft starts on Thursday with the first round. The second and third rounds are set for Friday, with the remaining four rounds on Saturday. ABC, ESPN and NFL Network will televise the draft, starting at 7 p.m. CDT Thursday, 6 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.