Johnson Primed To Be Early Contributor For Bears

(670 The Score) So long as star pass rusher Khalil Mack is under contract, the Bears have the potential to be a dominant defense. It's something general manager Ryan Pace doesn't take for granted.

It's with that as context that the Bears coveted cornerback Jaylon Johnson in the second round of the NFL Draft last Friday. In selecting Johnson at No. 50 overall, the Bears addressed a position of need, with a cornerback vacancy open opposite of Kyle Fuller. And Johnson will be on a reasonable rookie deal that runs through 2023, which is nearly in line with Mack's contract through 2024.

While Johnson will have to earn his starting spot in 2020, he stands as the favorite to do so.

"Jaylon has just a really good combination of size, athleticism and awareness," Pace said. "He’s that physical press corner that uses his size really well. He uses his strength to his advantage, to re-route receivers. Jaylon is a really intelligent player, plays the game with excellent instincts and awareness.

"We feel real strong about the physical talent but also the makeup."

Johnson's fall to the second round was largely attributed to concerns over his medical history, as Utah coach Kyle Whittingham explained. He underwent right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in March, an injury that he played with for much of the 2019 season. It marked the third shoulder surgery of Johnson's football career. 

The Bears had confidence in Johnson's health after reviewing his medicals and were enthused to land a physical cornerback who doesn't back down from any matchup. They also believe he could play a key role role right away.

After releasing veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara in February to open up $9 million in salary cap space, the Bears were without a clear replacement. They signed 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns, who had disappointed with the Steelers, to compete against former Canadian Football League standout Tre Roberson and returning cornerback Kevin Toliver. 

Johnson arrives to the Bears as perhaps the most talented cornerback in this competition -- and certainly the player with the highest upside.

"Honestly, I'm a baller," Johnson said. "I'm a real strong competitor. At Utah, I had to be the No. 1 corner and going out every week and shutting down No. 1 wide receivers, I'm used to getting after it. I'm used to challenging guys. I never shy down from competition."

Mack's hefty cost has forced the Bears to carefully construct contracts for others and sacrifice in certain areas in an ongoing balancing act. The Bears were nearly capped out before the draft, and they had been unable to land an impact cornerback in free agency.

The Bears didn't want a weak link at cornerback to be exploited with talents like Mack, Fuller, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, linebacker Roquan Smith, edge rusher Robert Quinn and safety Eddie Jackson on their defense. In adding Johnson, they believe they've addressed that potential issue for 2020 and beyond.

"When Jaylon was there, we turned the card in quickly because he's a guy we had obviously graded high," Pace said. "And it was a guy, it fit our board as far as the grades were coming off. It was a position of need for us as well. We were really happy for that combination to take place."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.