Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson may finally be arriving as a league-wide superstar. Johnson began the 2021 season as the most talented cornerback in the Bears’ secondary and a player who could evolve into a true shutdown cover-guy following his successful rookie year, but even the most optimistic fan couldn’t have expected the start he’s enjoying.
Johnson ranks seventh among all cornerbacks with a 79.2 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, who recently named him a first-teamer on their First-Quarter All-Pro Team.
“Johnson was arguably the best rookie cornerback last season, but that was a pretty low bar to clear, and he ended the year with just a 54.9 overall PFF grade,” PFF’s Sam Monson wrote. “He has built on those encouraging signs in Year 2 and is allowing a lowly 42.7 passer rating, locking down his man in the Chicago defense.
“Johnson has an interception and four pass breakups in 2021 while also impressing as a run defender. He hasn’t just been one of the best second-year corners; he's been one of the best corners in the NFL, period.”
Johnson’s impact on the Bears’ defense has been immense. The departure of veteran Kyle Fuller left a huge void in a secondary that began the 2021 season with two players vying for a starting job opposite Johnson—Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley—who combined for 14 total snaps in 2020. Needless to say, the pressure Johnson was and continues to be under is unlike any non-quarterback on the roster.
Johnson’s ability to answer the call has allowed defensive coordinator Sean Desai to focus elsewhere on defense. He is a lockdown guy now, even if he experiences a few bad reps that come along with just 17 career games. And remember: Johnson’s impact isn’t simply in pass defense. He has the Bears’ highest grade as a run defender, too.
Johnson’s emergence is the kind of draft-day hit general managers dream of. Premier cornerback prospects rarely fall outside the first 10 picks, let alone to the second round, which is where general manager Ryan Pace landed Johnson in 2020 (50th overall). Johnson slid in the draft because of a shoulder injury but his physical traits—size and length—made him a unique player even if there were some concerns on tape. Remember: few draft analysts had him as a top-five cornerback in the 2020 class.
In total, six cornerbacks were selected ahead of Johnson in 2020: Jeff Okudah (Lions, third overall), C.J. Henderson (Jaguars, ninth overall), A.J. Terrell (Falcons, 16th overall), Damon Arnette (Raiders, 19th overall), Noah Igbinoghene (Dolphins, 30th overall), and Jeff Gladney (Vikings, 31st overall). It’s safe to assume that if there was a redo of the 2020 NFL Draft, Johnson not only would be a first-round pick, but the first cornerback selected too.
Johnson plays like a guy with a chip on his shoulder and maybe it’s a result of him being overlooked in his draft class. But he’s proven on the field that he’s the best of the 2020 bunch, and now with the national media paying attention, he’s about to launch into superstar status.
- May 25, 2022
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