The Chicago Bears secondary is entering something of a transition year in 2021. Longtime leader and playmaker Kyle Fuller is gone, leaving the CB1 duties to Jaylon Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick who at times looked like a superstar as a rookie.
Now entering his second season, pressure is on Johnson to go from Fuller’s counterpart to the Bears’ most effective cover guy. He has to be a lockdown defender in order for Chicago to maximize its defensive upside.
According to a recent breakdown of every team’s X-factor in 2021, it was Johnson who was identified as that guy for the Bears.
The 2020 second-round pick flashed quite a bit in 13 starts as a rookie, but he didn’t intercept any passes, and he ultimately surrendered a triple-digit passer rating on throws into his coverage. Still, 15 passes defended despite missing three games as a 21-year-old rookie could be a sign that Johnson has a bright future, and the Bears likely feel that way based on their decision to part with Fuller.
Nobody is questioning Chicago’s front-seven talent, but the secondary will likely have to start pulling more weight if the Bears are to have a shot in the NFC North in 2021. The pass defense ranked in the middle of the pack in DVOA last season, but a breakout campaign or a sophomore slump from Johnson could send that rank shooting in either direction.
Interceptions aren’t always a good indicator of how effective a cornerback is. The better the cornerback, the fewer targets he’ll see. But there were moments of concern for Johnson last year, as indicated in the passer rating when he was targeted.
Still, there’s no denying Johnson’s massive upside as a physical and athletic shutdown defender. He has a chance to quickly emerge as one of the NFL’s top young defensive backs in 2021.
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