Cornerback is undoubtedly going to be one of the Las Vegas Raiders' biggest offseason needs. Meanwhile, Jaylon Johnson from the Chicago Bears is almost universally considered one of the top impending free agents at the position for good reason.
Johnson put together an excellent campaign in 2023, finishing as Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded corner (90.8) during the regular season. He allowed just a 50 percent completion rate which was tied for seventh-best at the position and ranked fourth with 20.2 coverage snaps per completion surrendered, only half a snap below the top spot.
But arguably the most impressive aspect of the four-year pro’s game is his ball skills. He logged a career-high four interceptions this season and had six pass breakups. The latter was a personal worst as he has 33 career PBUs, picking up 13, seven and seven in his first three seasons, respectively.
So, let’s dive into the Bear’s tape and see what he’s got.
Jaylon Johnson reads screen and crashes for a TFL pic.twitter.com/QqQYGZF7bc— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 22, 2024
We’ll start with a couple of nice reps against screens.
Here, Johnson does an excellent job of reading the release from the slot receiver, recognizing that the receiver is blocking instead of releasing on a route and sniffs out the screen. He then crashes downhill and takes on the block with good physicality and use of hands to get off the wideout’s block and pick up the tackle for loss.
Jaylon Johnson with another great read vs. screen pic.twitter.com/VK0xbyQFon— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 22, 2024
The next rep comes from a different game but it’s basically the same play call and result. Again, Johnson reads the slot receiver’s release, recognizes the play design and attacks downhill to make the tackle right at the line of scrimmage.
Nice close by Jaylon Johnson and rips the ball out of the WR's hands pic.twitter.com/MxE6VQ850L— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 22, 2024
Moving onto a few more traditional reps in coverage, something that stands out about the soon-to-be 25-year-old’s game is his ability to click and close. Here, Chicago is running Cover 3 cloud and he’s responsible for the deep third on the wide side of the field, meaning his job is to stay deep and make sure nothing goes over the top of his head.
With this type of coverage, the defense is willing to give up a completion on the short curl route as long as the corner rallies and tackles to limit yards after the catch. Once Johnson sees Patrick Mahomes rear back to throw, he triggers and has the speed to get to the receiver at the same time as the ball.
That alone would be a quality rep but Johnson ends up making the ‘A+ play’ by working the receiver's hands at the catch point and ripping the ball out. So, what should have been third and short is now third and long because the corner went the extra mile and made a great play.
Another great close and tackle by Jaylon Johnson pic.twitter.com/FNIvsB2c4m— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 22, 2024
The end result on this next clip isn’t as sexy as the last one since the Vikings still complete the pass, but it is another great close by Johnson.
The Bears are playing Cover 2 where Johnson is responsible for the right flat. Initially, he works for depth to make sure the outside receiver isn’t left open for a first down on a corner route. When the receiver works inside, he passes the wideout off to his teammates and recognizes that the fullback is coming into his area of the field.
To finish, the corner crashes downhill and makes a good tackle in open space to prevent any yards after the catch. That’s especially impressive seeing as he’s giving up about 50 pounds to the fullback.
Jaylon Johnson with a great read but man, this one might haunt him for a while lol pic.twitter.com/VNT8xpXxoC— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 22, 2024
Here, Chicago is rolling to a Cover 3 look so Johnson’s eyes are going to be on the quarterback, Josh Dobbs.
Dobbs is staring down his target—tight end T.J. Hockenson—and Johnson does a great job of reading that and then driving on the curl route. That puts him in a position to make a play on the ball and he goes up to highpoint it, getting two hands on the ball in the air. However, he probably took some crap in the film room the next day because the bobble ends up costing him a pick-six.
We’ll take a pass breakup on third down any day of the week, especially on Sundays, but this is one he undoubtedly wanted back.
Jaylon Johnson baits the throw by faking that he's driving on the short in, retraces and highpoints the ball for a pick...WOW! pic.twitter.com/f7XT3ekPR6— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) January 22, 2024
I saved the best for last as this is a VERY impressive interception.
The Vikings are running Cover 6 where Johnson is on the Cover 2 side of the play call and is responsible for the right flat. When the outside receiver works inside on the short in route, he bates Dobbs into throwing the corner by pretending to drive on the in route and Dobbs takes the cheese.
Then, he retraces and has the movement skills to get back to his depth to help the safety on the corner route. To finish, he goes up and highpoints the ball to make the pick and even tacks on about 20 yards after the return.
The gamesmanship and athletic ability to pull this off is pretty impressive and something only top-tier corners can execute.