Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson began the 2022 offseason as the most talented cornerback on the roster, but when general manager Ryan Poles selected Kyler Gordon with the 39th overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, that changed.
Sure, Gordon hasn’t played a down in the NFL yet, but his natural traits — both athletically and instinctually — are superior to Johnson, who was Bears’ second-round pick (No. 50 overall) in 2020.
The Bears’ decision to draft Gordon with their first pick in April wasn’t necessarily a message to Johnson; the team hasn’t soured on a player who emerged as one of the exciting young defensive backs in the NFC during his rookie season. But with a new coaching staff led by a head coach with a defensive background, Johnson knows he has to prove himself all over again.
“It’s a complete reset,” Johnson said Tuesday from the Bears’ voluntary OTAs. “Everything I’ve done in the past with the other coaches, with the other staff, I mean, it really doesn’t mean anything 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.”
Jaylon Johnson setting up for huge second contract
Johnson is entering a critical third season as a pro. His rookie contract is set to expire in 2023, and with the cornerback market reset this week by Green Bay Packers defensive back Jaire Alexander’s four-year, $84 million deal, a big season from Johnson could put him in line for a lucrative contract extension next offseason.
Before Johnson can ink a new deal, he has to impress head coach Matt Eberflus. And while it’s only been a few workouts in a t-shirt and shorts, it doesn’t appear like he’s off to a great start.
“Jaylon, you know a young player, is still a work in progress,” Eberflus said Tuesday. “He’s got some things he’s got to work on just like all the rest of those guys that are second- and third-year players. They’ve all got to work on stuff. Just ah, just keep working and we’ll see where he goes.”
That’s not the ringing endorsement many would’ve expected for Johnson, who’s on the shortlist of players with Pro Bowl potential in Chicago.
Potential only takes players so far, however. Johnson, who has only one interception in his career, has as much potential as any cornerback in the NFL. His blend of size (6-foot, 196 pounds) and length (nearly 32-inch arms) gives him a physical advantage against most wide receivers. His toughness is a plus, too. With more production on the ball, Johnson will ascend into the NFL’s elite cornerbacks.
“I feel as confident as ever,” Johnson said. “I don’t feel like there’s anything I can’t do.”
Bryan is the founder and managing editor of Bears Talk. His previous stops include Bears coverage for NBC Sports Chicago and USA Today. His NFL Draft and Bears coverage has also been featured on The Draft Network.