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Chicago Bears 2022 Position Battles: Cornerback is their most improved group

Next up in our 11-part Chicago Bears’ training camp preview series are the cornerbacks.

NFL: Chicago Bears OTA Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Considering where this group is coming from, I feel confident in saying that cornerback is the most improved position on the Chicago Bears. There are a few players still around Halas Hall that made up last season’s corner room, but they let some others walk and upgraded in both the draft and free agency. There are still some question marks with this unit, but I feel much better about the potential they have than I did a year ago.

Roster Locks

Jaylon Johnson is looking to cement himself as one of the better corners in the NFL after two decent years with the Bears. Last year he started to flip sides based on matchups, but a move to a new defense is still going to be a challenge he needs to meet. He should be a nice fit in Matt Eberflus’ scheme based on his instincts and physicality, but less reliance on man to man will still take some getting used to.

Eventually the other starter will be rookie Kyler Gordon, but he did miss some of the offseason program with an undisclosed injury. The Bears have downplayed it, but we’ve all seen this “minor” offseason injury storyline play out negatively far too often.

He didn’t have a very good 2021, but Kindle Vildor may be a better fit for Chicago’s new Tampa 2 style. As pointed out from Johnathan Wood from Da Bears Blog last month, Vildor was much better when playing zone last season as opposed to his man to man reps, so he’s the likely back up for outside corner.

There appears to be a new nickelback this year as second-year pro Thomas Graham Jr. has been seeing plenty of reps with the ones. Things may obviously change once the pads come on in camp, and then free agent nickel Tavon Young could look to wrangle the spot back. Young has has lot of success covering the slot during his career, but some injuries in the past have him looking for a fresh start.

A good bet to make it

Yesterday I went over the safety position and I had 4 locks, so if the above 5 corners are also locks, that probably means there’s just one more spot left for a defensive back on the 53-man roster. I think rookie draft pick Elijah Hicks (safety from Cal) is the odds on pick to make it, but there will be plenty of competition from the other young defensive backs in camp. Special teams value will factor in which Bears lands on the 2022 active roster.

On the bubble

The Bears return corner Duke Shelley, who like Vildor struggled a season ago, but unlike Vildor his effectiveness didn’t pick up as a zone corner. At 5’9” he’s not an viable option outside, so he’ll need to beat out the veteran Young for a spot, and I don’t see that happening.

The Bears brought in veterans Greg Stroman Jr., Lamar Jackson, BoPete Keyes and Jayson Stanley, but all four seem like a better bet for the practice squad. Jackson is the most experienced of them with 6 starts in 13 games during the 2020 season for the Jets, but last year he only played 5 snaps while spending most of 2021 on their practice squad.

Undrafted rookies Allie Green IV and Jaylon Jones are also in camp, and both are long shots to stick around. Green brings nice size (6’2”, 203) and physicality, while Jones is the much better athlete with a 9.18 RAS. EDIT: Grene was released on July 26.

How do you think the Bears will sack their defensive backs on the 53-man roster?