The Chicago Bears' dominant 37 - 17 victory against the Atlanta Falcons showcased the potential of a young team that has playmakers all over the field. While it was quarterback Justin Fields who stole headlines with his spectacular abilities, a snowy Soldier Field was also the setting for the breakout performance of one Tyrique Stevenson.
Chicago Bears Found a Budding Star in Rookie Tyrique Stevenson
Selected in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft via a pick acquired from the Carolina Panthers, Stevenson was a day-one starter at the boundary cornerback position, and while his play at the beginning of the season was somewhat inconsistent - a non-concerning reality for a rookie playing one of the most nuanced positions - the University of Miami product has come on strong over the back half of the season.
His progress was palpable on Sunday, as the corner hawked two interceptions, defended four passes, and totaled five tackles, all of which were at least tied for a team-high. Stevenson was arguably the Bears' best defender last week, and he may have done enough to toss his name into serious contention for some post-season hardware.
Now up to four picks on the year and three over the three games, Stevenson not only leads all rookies in interceptions but is tied for the third most interceptions by a cornerback across the entire league. He is also tied with Darius Slay for the sixth most passes defended in the NFL and is just one shy of fellow first-year Devon Witherspoon for the rookie lead.
Amongst all rookie defensive backs, Stevenson may have the most impressive resume through 16 games (even though he has only played in 15 games due to injury). However, he may be fighting an uphill battle to beat out some of his fellow draftees for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, mainly top 10 picks Will Anderson Jr. and Jalen Carter.
The case for either player is valid, considering that both have recorded at least six sacks through week 17. However, Stevenson's resume stacks up well against other cornerbacks who have won the award over the past decade.
Tyrique Stevenson Could Be the First Chicago Bears DROTY in 23 Years
Sauce Gardner (2022-23), Marshon Lattimore (17-18), and Marcus Peters (15-16) are the three most recent cornerbacks to win the award, and outside of Peters' league-leading eight interceptions as a rookie, Stevenson has already surpassed Gardner's total of two from a year ago and is knocking on the door of Lattimore's five-pick rookie campaign. Despite only playing in 15 games so far, Stevenson already has the most tackles of any of these players, a testament to his physicality at the line of scrimmage.
Compared to his contemporaries and the former winners at his position, Stevenson's season has been nothing short of amazing, but he might be at a disadvantage for the award as a former second-round pick. Outside of Shaquille Leonard in 2017-18, the last non-first-round defensive winner was DeMeco Ryans all the way back in 2006-7, and he only narrowly missed the first-round as the 33rd overall selection.
Several factors could impact Stevenson's chances at becoming the first Chicago Bear to win the award since Brian Urlacher in 2000-1, but even if he does not end up on the ballot, it is impossible to ignore the young corner's improvement throughout the year. It appears that the Bears have found a long-term starter in the secondary in the second round, something that this franchise has had a knack for in the 21st century, and if the team resigns Stevenson's running mate Jaylon Johnson this offseason, the Bears are capable of entering the 2024 season with one of the league's best young defensive backfields.