The Chicago Bears routed the Atlanta Falcons 37-17 on New Year's Eve. Headlined by 432 yards of offense and four interceptions by the defense, it was a performance to remember for both sides of the ball. Almost every starter for the Bears on Sunday had a great showing and made an impact. However, one player, in particular, had an award-worthy performance on Sunday.
The Chicago Bears rookie is playing his best late in the season
Rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson flashed his superstar potential and put on a show against the Falcons. On 34 coverage snaps, he was targeted six times, allowed just two receptions for 28 yards, and a 9.7 passer rating when targeted. Additionally, Stevenson notched two interceptions, garnered a team-high 90.5 PFF grade, and earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for week 17. It was a lockdown performance from the rookie who has come into his own during the back half of the season.
Stevenson's improvement throughout the season cannot be understated. Since week 11, he's led all rookie cornerbacks with an 82.9 defense-grade, 83.7 coverage grade, four interceptions, and a 53.1 passer rating when targeted. Stevenson is also second among rookie cornerbacks with five pass breakups and a 48.4 reception percentage allowed since week 11. Despite a slow start, Stevenson has steadily improved and become one of the top rookie cornerbacks this season.
The second-round pick out of the University of Miami has solidified his name around NFL circles and, more notably, the Defensive Rookie Of the Year race. Despite Philadelphia Eagles DT Jalen Carter being an almost shoo-in for the award, Stevenson has made a late-season surge that has people talking about the possibility of the Bears rookie winning the award.
The main argument for Stevenson's case is his massive improvement. It can't be ignored that Stevenson has been playing like a top cornerback since week 11. However, the rookie struggled mightily before his rapid ascension, and that also can't be ignored.
Stevenson's struggles have mainly occurred in coverage. He's allowed a 63.4 completion percentage, 97.8 passer rating, 719 yards, and nine touchdowns on 101 targets this season. According to PFF, he also graded out at 101st among 113 total cornerbacks in the NFL through the first nine weeks of the season. Performances such as a week 11 showing where he didn't allow a single reception and grabbed an interception, or his week 17 performance have certainly helped his case and shown growth. However, Stevenson's season has been a microcosm of the Bears themselves. Massive late-season improvements, but ultimately, it is too little, too late for both the Bears to make the playoffs and for Stevenson to win Defensive Rookie Of The Year.
Despite not having enough to win the award, Tyrique Stevenson's improvement certainly won't go unnoticed. His game has translated to the NFL, and he'll undoubtedly be a top breakout candidate in the league.
In a young cornerback room consisting of Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon, and Terell Smith, Tyrique Stevenson's growth will be paramount to possibly catapulting this group to one of the best in the league for years to come.