Bears’ last 4 games pivotal for rookie WR Velus Jones

With Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool out, Jones is in position to show what he can do at the tail end of a slow rookie season.

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Bears wide receiver Velus Jones runs with the ball against the Jets.

Jones has played just 75 offensive snaps out of a possible 809.

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Bears general manager Ryan Poles drew quizzical looks for his moves and non-moves at wide receiver last offseason, including bypassing the position twice in the second round of the draft and taking 25-year-old Velus Jones in the third.

The outlook on Jones has only gotten hazier since.

Entering the final four games of his rookie season, starting Sunday against the Eagles at Soldier Field, he has just 72 yards of total offense and one touchdown in eight games. He has been a healthy scratch twice and has been on the field for just 75 offensive plays.

The brutally slow start has tested both Jones’ resolve and the Bears’ patience. He has been splashy as a return man — although there also were costly mistakes — but teams are looking for much more than a specialist from a No. 71 overall pick. Jones was supposed to be a multifaceted playmaker for an organization suffering a dearth of those.

However, he’s unflinchingly confident he’ll be a weapon sooner rather than later, regardless of how it looks at the moment.

“It’s definitely been a process, but I’m thankful for the process,” he told the Sun-Times. “I feel myself getting better each week, and I just know one of these games I’m gonna break out.

“I’ll overcome this and be a top receiver in the league in the future. I know that’s going to happen. I don’t care what other people think. I knew I was going to be [in the NFL] one day, and a lot of people didn’t think that. I definitely know I’ll be at the top of my game on this level.”

Further complicating Jones’ path, the competition has gotten tougher as he has struggled. When the Bears drafted him, it was plausible he could develop into their best receiver behind Darnell Mooney. But they traded for up-and-comer Chase Claypool at the deadline, and now the math has changed.

Mooney, who’s out for the season with a foot injury, didn’t make the jump to become a clear-cut No. 1 receiver. Claypool hasn’t been that yet, either. And if the Bears have a pair of No. 2 targets, they need to find someone better than both of them in the draft, free agency or the trade market.

Assuming Poles can find such a talent to join Claypool and Mooney (the latter two are actually younger than Jones), where would that leave Jones?

Meanwhile, some of the receivers Poles passed on when he drafted cornerback Kyler Gordon at No. 39 and safety Jaquan Brisker at No. 48 look exactly like what the Bears need. Georgia star George Pickens, who went 52nd to the Steelers, put up his first 100-yard game in Week 4 and has 40 catches for 590 yards and two touchdowns, better numbers than anyone on the Bears. The Colts took Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce with the next pick; he has 32 catches for 510 yards and two touchdowns. Several receivers selected after Jones have been modestly productive as well.

The upside for Jones is that his playing time could be increasing. Bears coaches have praised his work in practice, and there are multiple vacancies. Not only is Mooney done for the year, but Claypool is out against the Eagles on Sunday because of a knee injury. Jones is competing with Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle and Dante Pettis for targets from quarterback Justin Fields.

“I’m ready. I’ve been waiting for this moment,” Jones said of the potential for a bigger role down the stretch. “I’m proud of my progress especially this week — I had a really good week of practice — and now it’s all about consistency.

“I’ve played running back, outside receiver, inside receiver. I can do a lot of things. In the future, I’ll be utilized that way, especially because of my size. They’ll be able to put me everywhere.”

That’s a big dream. It’s time for Jones to offer some evidence that it’s realistic.

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