When Kyle Fuller became an unfortunate cap casualty this past spring, a spotlight was placed on Bears second-year corner Jaylon Johnson. Filling the shoes of an All-Pro corner who made two Pro-Bowl appearances during his six seasons in Chicago was a tall order for Johnson, but so far, he’s answered the call.
The cornerback with the highest PFF Grade in the NFL so far thru Week 2? pic.twitter.com/Vg6LB8Lf4U
— Brad Spielberger (@PFF_Brad) September 20, 2021
Johnson made the highlight reel on Sunday, when he picked off Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in the fourth quarter of the Bears 20-17 victory over Cincinnati. But his impact has been felt beyond his first career interception
According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson is the second highest-rated cornerback behind the Raiders Casey Hayward Jr., with a grade of 87.0 (Hayward Jr. has a slight edge over Johnson in the PFF rankings with an 88.3 position grade). In Johnson’s first two weeks as the Bears’ top cornerback, he has allowed just four completions for 89 yards while tallying an NFL-best five pass breakups and held opposing quarterbacks to a 66.3 passer rating.
Johnson’s 87.0 PFF position grade is a drastic jump from last season when he finished with a 54.9 position grade.
Johnson has been called upon to replace Kyle Fuller, who was cut back in March in a move that the Bears made to clear $11 million in cap space, but an action that has been widely considered the most significant loss of the offseason for the Bears. The loss of Fuller, who reunited with former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in Denver, left the Bears bare at the cornerback position, with Johnson’s development being a large unknown before the season.
The Bears’ secondary as a whole was a primary concern heading into Week 2 after they were lit up as a unit by Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams on the national stage last Sunday night. I even chose Johnson as one of the ‘Three Bears’ in this week’s preview on Friday, with Ja’Mar Chase and Tee Higgins posing a significant threat to the Bears’ chances of victory on Sunday.
Johnson had to have a big performance for the Bears this week if they hoped to quiet a Bengals passing attack that put up 261 yards and a pair of scores against a stout Minnesota Vikings defense in Week 1. He answered the call in a big way, and by no coincidence, Johnson and the Bears defense played a pivotal role in the Bears’ first win on the season on Sunday.
Rookie defensive coordinator Sean Desai’s unit, forced four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble) and accounted for seven points on a Roquan Smith pick-six in Sunday’s victory, a stark contrast from their forgettable Week 1 performance. With the quarterback situation now up in the air, the defense stepping up will be critical for an organization that might be turning the offense over to their rookie quarterback next week against the Cleveland Browns if Andy Dalton’s knee injury keeps him out of the game.