Jaylon Johnson took a strong step forward in his development last season. Routinely he was the guy the Chicago Bears lined up against the best receivers of every opponent on the schedule, and he more than held his own. At 23-years-old, he looks like somebody who can form the foundation of the next great Bears defense alongside Roquan Smith. Except that isn’t always how it works in the NFL. Things have changed, and his status within the organization can best be called uncertain.
It didn’t get off to the best start when Johnson missed some early practices with the team. Media members were shocked when they saw him running with the second-team defense when he did show up. Head coach Matt Eberflus insisted not to read too much into that. Johnson wasn’t up to speed yet and needed time to get acclimated. Though true, it is difficult not to wonder if something is going on. Eberflus was careful to praise the third-year cornerback but admitted he is still in the process of evaluating him.
“Last week I didn’t get a chance to look at him, and now I’ve seen him for a week and I like what I see. I mean, he’s moving around really good. His change of direction is nice. He’s got really good hands. As you know, he’s got good size. So now, (it’s) just really looking at his coverage ability, and it’s in a good spot — it’s in a really good spot. So we’re just working with him and again trying to assess his skills, and we’ll coach him as we go.”
This entire Jaylon Johnson issue is tricky.
He has shown himself to be a good player at an important position. Why would the new regime even consider the idea of moving on from him? This is probably true, but there is one reason that should not be ignored. It drives to the heart of the head coach himself. Remember what Eberflus said. This new defense will be driven by one mission above all others. That is taking the ball away. Turnovers are everything.
When discussing Johnson, that is the one area of his game deserving of serious criticism. Across 28 starts so far in his career, he has one interception. That is not good. Remember that Trevon Diggs, who was selected one pick after him in 2020, already has 14. The Indianapolis Colts, Eberflus’ former team, moved on from former 2nd round pick Rock Ya-Sin because he only managed two across three years.
The good news is this may not last much longer. Jaylon Johnson has proven in the past he can be a legitimate ballhawk. He had six interceptions and two defensive touchdowns during his final two seasons at Utah. The capability is there. He hasn’t been able to make things happen yet for whatever reason. Maybe this new coaching staff unlocks that door. If it doesn’t happen, though, it’s fair to wonder if his time in Chicago might be shorter than we realize.
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