Cornerback Jaylon Johnson made strides in his second year with the Chicago Bears, but there’s still some room for him to grow. In 2021 he started to follow the opposing teams best wide receiver around the field, he picked up the first interception of his career, and he was also targeted just 4.8 times per game after being targeted 6 times per game as a rookie.
The decrease in action was partly due to him taking over as the Bears CB1, but also because the other corners on the field were so bad. If you were playing quarterback against the Bears in 2021 why throw towards Johnson when you can target guys like Marqui Christian, Xavier Crawford, Kindle Vildor, and Duke Shelley?
Vildor and Shelley are still around, but neither should see a meaningful snaps on defense unless there’s an injury. The Bears added rookie Kyler Gordon and veteran Tavon Young, and second year pro Thomas Graham Jr. has been running at nickel this offseason, but it’s Johnson that the Bears are counting on to be their number one corner again in 2022.
“Johnson has already shown enough for his ceiling to be a true CB1,” wrote Pro Football Focus in their article ranking the top NFL cornerbacks. “Despite snagging just one interception since entering the league in 2020, the 6-foot, 195-pound cornerback ranks eighth in forced incompletion rate (15.3%) since then. If Johnson can reel in his occasional over-aggressiveness, he can significantly climb these rankings.”
The over-aggressiveness can be tamed by having another year under his belt, and also by moving to a defense that isn’t so reliant on man to man defense. With the Bears transitioning to more Tampa 2 principles there’ll be another learning curve for the 23-year old Johnson, but he’s up to the challenge of proving himself to the new coaching regime.
“That’s my mindset now moving forward,” Johnson said last month via the team’s site. “It’s a complete reset. Everything I’ve done in the past with the other coaches, with the other staff, it really doesn’t mean too much. I mean, the film is not going to lie to you. But at the end of the day, they want me to show them what I can do in person moving forward.”
Johnson missed some voluntary stuff early this offseason which landed him on the second team when he returned, but he quickly got up to speed in the scheme, the coaches put him back with the ones, and that’s where he’s been ever since.
Head coach Matt Eberflus and defensive coordinator Alan Williams both came over from the Indianapolis Colts last season, and with them came a 4-3 front and an increase of zone defense.
According to Johnathan Wood from Da Bears Blog the Colts played zone about 69% of the time in 2021, which is about 15% more than the Bears did last year, and while Johnson didn’t play a lot of zone last season his numbers showed him to be a bit better then when he was in man.
“It’s definitely different from what we were used to running here in the past,” Johnson said. “I feel like it gives us a lot more opportunities to see the quarterback, to make plays on the ball.”
The roots of the defense is in the Tampa 2, so Bears’ fans should get a sense of familiarity watching them play. They’ll expect the front four to pressure the QB while the back seven plays smart and disciplined in zone coverage. If things click for Johnson within the defense he should be in line for a career year.