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.
Tillman -- the greatest cornerback in franchise history, with 36 interceptions and 42 forced fumbles -- cracked the Bears’ starting lineup by the fourth game of his rookie season.
Fuller debuted as the Bears’ nickelback in 2014 before Tillman, ironically enough, suffered a season-ending triceps injury in Week 2. That injury cleared the way for Fuller to be promoted to a full-time starting cornerback role the very next week.
The expedited NFL timetable used for Tillman and Fuller should apply to Johnson, who 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 during draft weekend. “He’s that physical, press corner that uses his size really well. He uses his strength to his advantage, to reroute receivers. Jaylon is a really intelligent player, plays the game with excellent instincts and awareness, you can see it in the way he plays."
Chicago entered the draft with a sizeable hole at cornerback following the offseason release of former starter Prince Amukamara. The lack of a traditional offseason program will probably force Johnson to begin training camp behind veterans Kevin Toliver II and Artie Burns, but Johnson likely won't be behind them for long.
Burns is a former first-round pick of the Steelers who signed a one-year deal with just $887,500 fully guaranteed. Toliver’s base salary for 2020 is $750,000. None of it is guaranteed.
Chicago’s serious financial commitments at cornerback are now limited to Fuller, nickelback Buster Skrine and Johnson. Last year’s 50th overall pick, Minnesota tight end Irv Smith Jr., eventually agreed to a four-year deal with $3.490 million guaranteed.
Were Kmet and Johnson the right picks for the Bears?
Jeff Dickerson breaks down whether TE Cole Kmet and CB Jaylon Johnson were the right picks for the Bears on Day 2 of the 2020 NFL draft.
“I would say [I’m] versatile,” Johnson said on Day 2 of the draft. “Not being that corner that's playing only in man or zone schemes but being able to play multiple coverages and being able to take away No. 1 wide receivers. I'm well-rounded and an extreme competitor.”
Six cornerbacks went off the board in the first round this year. Johnson, who appeared in 38 games with seven interceptions over three years with the Utes, lasted until Day 2 partly because of medical red flags. The 6-foot cornerback has had three shoulder surgeries, with one coming in March, following the NFL combine. Johnson confirmed on draft weekend that he played all of last season with a torn right labrum.
“[We are] very comfortable [with Johnson’s medicals],” Pace said. “He’s missed one game in two years. He played through an injury last year which I think says a lot about him and kind of who he is. He got it fixed and this will be something that will limit him in some of the offseason program. But we feel really comfortable with our doctors and trainers and the work we did on it and we expect him to be healthy when we need him.”
Which should be immediately.