The pressure is on for Ryan Pace to find rookies that can contribute to the Chicago Bears while the contention window is still open. Do the first two selections of the 2020 NFL Draft fit that bill?
After quickly snagging both Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet and Jaylon Johnson of Utah with the No. 43 and No. 50 selections, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace is officially “off the clock” for the next 113 picks. Not that this means much; internal clock and pressure to win now isn’t something that will merely pass by.
Chicago’s No. 43 choice didn’t do much to appease the masses of Bears fans likely already calling for Pace’s head, which means that for his best-case scenario is that these rookies produce an immediate payout — prospects that can make à la Anthony Miller and Bilal Nichols for that 2018 NFC North winning team.
The Bears “depth” (if you want to call it that) at tight end make the Kmet selection a little easier to scrutinize, but with Jaylon Johnson, it’s safe to say the Chicago Bears could have a game-changer on its hands.
With respect to each, it was a bit more difficult to get excited about the prospect of Kevin Toliver or former first-round pick Artie Burns commandeering the No. 2 cornerback spot. With new blood in Johnson, we, at the very least, are looking at an intriguing position battle.
Many experts, including Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, went as far as to saying that we shouldn’t “be surprised if he’s better than Kyle Fuller in a year or two,” which is especially soothing, considering Fuller’s gargantuan $20 million cap hit in 2021.
Expecting Johnson to be one of those right-away rookies isn’t built on just optimism, though. His numbers back up something similar. He spent time in Utah’s 4-2-5 scheme, where he dominated in press coverage, and showed his ability to play inside and outside. As Rob Schwarz Jr. makes note of, Johnson’s 6-foot frame and athleticism are going to be vital in trying to combat some of the NFC North’s towering wideouts.
Beyond ten yards, Johnson allowed just a 24.1 completion percentage, the best success rate among any defensive backs, to go with just three touchdowns allowed on 1,256 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He was also a machine on obvious passing downs, despite just seven interceptions over three seasons.
As it relates to the “contributing right away” mindset, if Johnson does have one weakness per sè, health would be it. Over his three year collegiate career, he’s had three shoulder surgeries, including one he’s on the mend for now.
Pace, historically has been undeterred in selecting players with injury history. Before he ever played a regular season snap for the Chicago Bears, No. 7 pick Kevin White had surgery. All-Pro safety Eddie Jackson had multiple surgeries at Alabama, and turned out well.
It’s a bit of a paradox, but it’s one of the aspects you might like most when it comes to Johnson. Not letting his teammates down was important; he played through most of this past season well aware of the injury, and still produced at a remarkably high level, highlighted by a dominant performance against No. 25 selection and Arizona State graduate Brandon Aiyuk (he held Aiyuk to one catch for seven yards in a 21-3 demolition in October.
It’d be unwise to expect Johnson to come in and be a Pro Bowler, but there’s immediate impact potential. He was the No. 29 ranked prospect on NFL.com, and their scouting evaluations suggest he should be a starter within his first two seasons.
If this doesn’t work out with semi-instant results, one has to wonder where the relationship with Pace and the Chicago Bears fan base goes. The optimism of the spring’s Draft gets quickly cooled by the start of the season in the fall, especially without something to show for it.
ESPN’s Daniel Jeremiah made a point that one could argue the Chicago Bears actually got two first-round players. Perhaps it’s a case of amnesia, but I can’t think of too many first-rounders that didn’t step right in and produce. And hopefully, 2020 won’t be the year to start.