Teams that expect a second-round pick to become an instant starter are usually setting themselves up for a letdown, although when it comes to a top-50 pick like former Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson, it's reasonable to project him as a potential first-teamer on the Bears' defense this season.
Johnson is in a training camp battle with veterans Artie Burns and Kevin Toliver for the starting job opposite Kyle Fuller, and the lingering effects of offseason shoulder surgery have caused him to lose some ground, according to defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. But there's no denying he has the most upside out of all of the candidates for the starting job, and the sooner he wins it, the better off the defense will be.
According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson will be a critical variable in the defense unlocking its full potential.
"The Bears are well-positioned to have one of the league’s best defenses in 2020, but the play of Johnson in his rookie season is a potential roadblock to that outcome," wrote PFF's Ben Linsey. "There’s good reason to believe Johnson’s addition has a better chance of helping Chicago’s defense than hurting it, however. PFF’s Anthony Treash outlined why PFF had the Utah cornerback as a top-25 prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft earlier this offseason, highlighting his attention to detail in film study and instincts as big reasons for his success. Over his three-year career with the Utes, Johnson allowed just 49% of the passes into his coverage to be completed.
"It may be optimistic to expect that kind of result from Johnson as a rookie this season, but simply providing similar play to what they lost from Amukamara would be considered a win for Chicago in Year 1."
Johnson has everything NFL defenses covet in cornerback prospects. His size and physical coverage style will endear him to Bears fans early in his career. He showed up to training camp looking the part, too:
Rookie Jaylon Johnson looking like a OLB instead of a CB 💀😳 pic.twitter.com/3QpiyEhjDo— MonsterOfTheTriState (@SCAR_179NY) August 11, 2020
Rookies like Johnson are facing a challenging first season in the league for reasons way beyond just the jump in competition. With no offseason workouts or minicamps because of the COVID-19 outbreak, first-year players will be thrust into live game action without ever being tested by NFL receivers outside of their own teammates. As a result, it will be difficult for coaches to trust their rookies early in 2020, especially defensive backs.
Johnson may not begin the season with the first string, but he won't be waiting long before he becomes a fixture in the starting lineup.