The Chicago Bears’ biggest defensive need by far entering the draft was in the secondary, and they jumped on Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson with the 50th overall pick. Johnson had first-round talent but injury questions. Here are Johnson’s odds at Mybookie to win 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as well as the Bears’ over/under win total.
Johnson was a four-star recruit out of Fresno, Calif., who committed to Utah over USC, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Arizona State, among numerous other offers.
He played in all 12 regular-season games in 2017 as a freshman with two starts but missed the Utes’ bowl game due to injury. Johnson tied for the team lead with six pass breakups and second on the team in passes defended (7). He totaled 25 tackles.
As a sophomore, Johnson was a full-time starter and was named first-team All-Pac-12. His four interceptions led Utah and tied for third in the Pac-12. He was second in the Pac-12 and eighth in the nation with 126 interception return yards. Johnson had … four pass breakups and 41 tackles (2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack). He was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after returning an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against Stanford for just the third 100-yard interception return in Utah’s history. Johnson also had seven tackles in that game.
Last year, Johnson was again first-team All-Pac 12 and second-team All-American. He played in 13 of 14 games, skipping Utah’s bowl to prepare for the draft. Johnson ranked third in the Pac-12 and led Utah with 11 pass breakups. He was … fourth in the league in passes defended (13) and passes defended per game (1.00) while adding two picks and 36 tackles (1.0 TFL). Pro Football Focus charted Johnson with only 4.9 yards per target and a 44 percent catch rate allowed in coverage.
So why did Johnson slip in the draft to No. 50 overall by Chicago? Johnson had surgery on his right shoulder after taking part in the NFL Scouting Combine. The surgery, which repaired a torn labrum, was the third that Johnson has undergone on the shoulder. Dr. Peter Millett wrote a letter to all 32 teams in which he stated that the recovery period could be five months, which would ensure that Johnson is ready to go for the start of the regular season. Johnson played the entire season with the injury.
At 6-foot, 195-pounds, Johnson sports a decent frame and shows all the movement skills required to be a sticky cornerback in the NFL. Johnson could show improvement in his ability to finish plays down the field, but he is consistently in position to make plays. His criticisms steam from occasional overreactions that lead to him lunging while his feet get jittery and impatient at times. Johnson projects as an immediate NFL starter with traits comparable to that of Ravens Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters.
Since 2003, the Bears — prior to selecting Johnson 50th overall — had taken only two cornerbacks in the first two rounds of the draft: Charles Tillman (second round, 2003) and Kyle Fuller (first round, 2014), both of whom quickly became fixtures in Chicago’s secondary. Johnson was assigned Tillman’s old jersey number, 33.
“Jaylon has just a really good combination of size, athleticism and awareness,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “He’s that physical, press corner that uses his size really well.”
Johnson said he not going to forget the 49 chances teams had to select him in the NFL draft between Rounds 1-2.
“Definitely, as a competitor and with the expectations I have for myself, of course I expected to go a lot higher,” Johnson said. “To me, this moment is big, a once-in-a-lifetime moment. You only go through this once. At the end of the day, I’m going to go out and show what I could’ve been for any team that selected me. … I’m going to do all I can to make teams regret their decision.”