Chicago Bears draft class is older with more college feel – a byproduct of COVID-19. Could it be too deep?

 Chicago Bears draft class is older with more college feel - a byproduct of COVID-19.  Could it be too deep?

Wells Jones Jr. posed the question during the pre-draft process, so the Tennessee wide receiver and return specialist was prepared with an answer.

“Age is nothing but a number,” he said during a Zoom call with reporters after the Chicago Bears drafted him in the third round on Friday night.

Jones joined the Bears with six years of college experience — four at USC and two at Tennessee. He had a redshirt year at USC as a freshman in 2016. And they took advantage when the NCAA granted players an extra year of eligibility as the 2020 season was disrupted by COVID-19.

Last season as a sixth-year senior for the Volunteers, he scored a career-high 807 receiving yards, 1,722 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns (seven receiving, one kickoff return).

Jones will turn 25 next week, making him the oldest player in the 11-man Bears draft class for a year. For comparison, wide receiver Alan Robinson was 25 in his first season with the Bears — and he already had four years in the NFL at the time.

But Jones described his physical condition as more important than his age.

“The biggest injury I’ve ever had was an ankle sprain,” he said. “Never torn anything, broke anything, so I have the body of a 21-year-old. … a lot of people try to make a big deal out of it, but at the end of the day, I can play ball, I’m physical, I can run, I can pretend.”

Jones is far from the only player drafted this week, who took a long journey to reach the Bears.

Offensive linemen Zachary Thomas and Doug Kramer would be 24 before training camp and also in college for six years. Seven other Bears drafted five years, including Miami (Ohio) edge rusher Dominic Robinson, who will turn 24 this summer, and 23-year-old safety Jacen Brisker, who spent two years in community college before playing three seasons at Penn State. was in college.

The only player in the class whose college career wasn’t extended? Washington cornerback Kyler Gordon, who played four seasons and ranked No. 39 in the second round, was the Bears’ first pick.

“(The drafting of older players) was not intentional,” said Bears general manager Ryan Poles. “After the draft last year, for the (undraft free agent) process, there was none. It was really kind of a deal with COVID because a lot of these players took an extra year. … It’s just COVID on the draft. There is an effect that, perhaps, will last for another year. ”

The COVID year didn’t just affect the Bears class. According to Defector, this year’s draft class was on average a full year older than the previous five classes overall.

Sports Illustrated took a look at some of the oldest players in this year’s draft, reporting that at least 17. were seventh year Senior in the FBS locker room in 2021. One of them is East Washington offensive lineman Tristan Taylor, 25, who started college in 2015 by redshirting, sitting out most of 2018 with a knee injury and signed as an unwanted free agent with the Bears on Saturday. night.

The NFL front office and coaches clearly expect that the draft class is not only out of date but also deep in talent because of players entering the league for a year.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said before the draft that he usually struggles to find the final 40 to 50 players worthy of evaluation on the 400-player list, but this year had no trouble.

NBC Sports’ Peter King reports that the Baltimore Ravens stock middle-round picks—including six in the fourth round—due to their belief in depth of class. And the Bears scouts echoed that sentiment as the team made 3 picks on day eight, hoping there would be some hits at high volumes.

“I didn’t think (draft class) was as exciting at the top,” scout Jeff Shiver said Saturday after the Bears drafted Kramer. “Not a movie star there, but it’s mixed all the way. Like there will be people in the seventh round where someone’s good is going to be stolen.

“Especially with all of our selections, and we have a bunch of open roster spots. … we should be able to track down some good free agents as well.”

For scouts like Byers Brake Ackley, who had years of filming on Baylor running back Trastan Ebner, the extra year allowed him more research to confirm his assessment.

For the players, it gave them an extra year to prepare for the NFL transition.

Such was the case with Robinson, who had an extra year to develop after switching from wide receiver to edge rusher in 2020. And this was the case with Jones, according to Bears scout Sam Somerville, who said he saw refinements in Jones’ game, including root running, from the beginning to the end of the 2021 season. He also noted Jones’ maturity.

Jones was mindful of using the year to better himself.

“Having that extra year to develop on everything, from having a bigger, stronger, faster, football IQ, to growing on it, especially breaking defenses,” Jones said. “God gave me one more chance to do what I love, just improve myself as a player and also as a person.”

As Jones is the oldest player in the Bears class, Somerville noted that age can sometimes be overrated, noting that all players come with the same NFL experience.

The Poles also rejected the question of age.

“Sure, I wish he was 19, but you can’t have everything,” said the Poles. “It’s just part of who he is, and we’ll just roll with it. He’s been sustainable, so I feel good about that.”