Former Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson made an immediate impact for the Chicago Bears, joining the starting lineup from Day 1 during his rookie season in 2020.
What he showed as a young corner for the Bears puts him on the radar for a breakout season next year, as Pro Football Focus’ Anthony Treash named Johnson one of six rookies from 2020 who could break out during their sophomore campaigns.
“Cornerback has the steepest learning curve from college to the NFL. The biggest thing you want to see from a rookie like Johnson is holding up at the line of scrimmage and not getting burnt in man coverage,” Treash wrote. “And that’s where he impressed in 2020. His coverage grade among outside corners in man coverage was the second-best in the NFL.”
Johnson’s first-year numbers
Johnson joined the Bears as a second-round pick in last year’s NFL draft and the 50th overall selection. He started all 13 games he played as a rookie — Johnson was sidelined for the final three weeks of the regular season and one playoff games with a shoulder injury — and he helped Chicago reach the playoffs, where the Bears lost in the wild-card round.
Johnson, a three-year starter at Utah, finished the year with 42 tackles and 15 pass deflections. That included making a game-saving play in his NFL debut. He became the first Bears rookie to start at cornerback on opening day since Walt Harris in 1996.
Johnson’s 15 pass deflections ranked fourth in the NFC, and he had five games with multiple pass deflections.
Treash pointed out the areas where Johnson looked like a rookie — among them was ranking fifth-worst in zone coverage grade against outside cornerbacks, which was “quite the opposite of what we saw from him at Utah, where he established himself as one of the most instinctive players in the country and made numerous impact plays in off-zone coverage,” Treash wrote.
A bright future
The writer also noted, though, that Johnson had a 21.2% forced incompletion rate in 2020, the top mark by a rookie outside cornerback during the PFF era (which goes back to 2006).
“His zone awareness is bound to improve in the next couple of years,” Treash wrote. “He held up better than any other rookie in man coverage this season and has flashed all the signs of taking a big step forward in 2021.”