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Chicago Bears training camp is less than a month away, which means it’s time to start looking ahead at the roster the team is bringing to Lake Forest.
The Bears cornerback room was arguably the weakest position group on the team in 2021. Aside from Jaylon Johnson, no other player was reliable and they were exposed often. It was a key focal point in free agency and the NFL Draft this offseason for general manager Ryan Poles. Now with new faces, the group could be vastly improved in 2022.
Here is our preview of the team’s cornerbacks.
Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson (33) runs on the field during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
In 2021, Johnson took over as the team’s top cornerback after the release of Kyle Fuller in the offseason and though he had similar numbers from his rookie season, he showed signs of growth. Johnson had one interception last year and held quarterbacks to a completion percentage under 60 for the second consecutive season. He also took on the challenge of covering team’s top wide receivers with mixed results.
Johnson has shown the ability to be an excellent cornerback, but still has plenty of room for improvement. With a new system in place and new teammates, 2022 might be a make-or-break season.
Chicago Bears cornerback Kyler Gordon speaks at a news conference during the NFL football team’s rookie minicamp at Halas Hall in Lake Forest, Ill., Friday, May 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
The Bears showed just how serious they were about upgrading the cornerback position when they selected Kyler Gordon with their first selection of the 2022 NFL Draft. Gordon was ranked as one of the top cornerback prospects and fell to the second round out of the draft where the Bears were able to nab him.
Gordon was outstanding at the University of Washington, showing an impressive ability to stay with receivers. He also didn’t allow a single touchdown over his final two years in college. Though he missed the final few offseason practices, Gordon projects as the Bears other starting corner opposite Johnson.
Nov 27, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tavon Young (36) reacts after a turnover in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
The Bears outside cornerbacks had a rough season in 2021, but their nickel corners had an even worse year. That’s why Poles sought out free agent Tavon Young, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. Young was one of the better nickel cornerbacks in the league, but injuries limited his playing time over the last few years. He rebounded in 2021 and playing on a one-year deal in Chicago, has a chance to revitalize his career.
Young has the pedigree to start at nickel corner, but will likely be battling a few incumbent Bears for the spot. Either way, his veteran presence should help stabilize the position.
Thomas Graham Jr.
Chicago Bears cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (27) defends against the New York Giants during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Thomas Graham Jr. was an afterthought for much of last season, but his late-season performances are cause for optimism. Drafted in the sixth-round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Graham had a strong preseason, but was cut just before the regular season and spent much of the year on the practice squad. It wasn’t until December that he got elevated to the active roster and proceeded to have four passes defensed in just four games, along with 13 total tackles.
Now heading into camp, Graham will likely be battling Young for the starting nickel cornerback spot. He had a strong camp and preseason during his rookie year. Perhaps another one under a new regime pushes him over the top.
Chicago Bears cornerback Kindle Vildor (22) reacts after the Las Vegas Raiders made an incomplete pass during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Heading into last season, Kindle Vildor was viewed as a possible breakout candidate after he had some flashes in his rookie season. Those hopes were dashed rather quickly as Vildor struggled for the entire season as a starting cornerback. He allowed six touchdowns and quarterbacks had a rating of 136.1 when targeting him. Vildor was one of the biggest disappointments for the Bears in 2021 and now faces an uphill battle entering his third season.
Depending on Gordon’s availability, Vildor could enter camp as the team’s other starting outside cornerback, but likely won’t be there for long. It’s fair to say he’s trending towards the bubble and he needs a strong camp to stay on the team.
Aug 28, 2021; Nashville, TN, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback Duke Shelley (20) makes a catch during warm ups during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
Another late-round draft pick from the Ryan Pace era, Duke Shelley is the longest-tenured cornerback on the roster. He saw the most playing time of his career in 2021, doubling his amount of snaps from the previous season. Shelley improved his numbers in 2021, notching 37 total tackles and three passes defensed. He also improved his completion percentage and opposing quarterback rating.
Even with those improvements, time is not on Shelley’s side. He’s firmly on the bubble at this point in his career and hasn’t done enough to warrant a consistent roster spot. Shelley does have some special teams value and has shown to tackle well, but he could be on the outs when September arrives.
Chicago Bears defensive back BoPete Keyes warms up with teammates at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Lake Forest, Ill., Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
BoPete Keyes enters his second season with the Bears. He signed late in the season last year and played just a few snaps in one game. Now having a full offseason with the Bears, he’ll have a chance to show what he can do but it likely won’t amount to a roster spot.
Aug 27, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets cornerback Lamar Jackson (38) on the field prior to the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Sadly, Lamar Jackson is best known for not being the MVP quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens. He signed with the Bears early in the offseason and played in one game for the New York Jets last season, only on special teams.
Nov 8, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive back Jayson Stanley (29) jogs on the field prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Jayson Stanley is the newest member of the cornerback group, signing just four weeks ago. He’s a converted wide receiver who spent the last couple of seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.
Greg Stroman Jr.
Jun 8, 2022; Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears defensive back Greg Stroman Jr. warms up during organized team activities at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Another free agent signee, Greg Stroman Jr. joins the Bears after three seasons in Washington. He saw plenty of playing time his rookie year, in 2018 but not much the next couple of seasons as he dealt with injuries.
Allie Green IV
Missouri defensive back Allie Green IV (24) warms up before playing Arkansas during an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
Allie Green IV was an undrafted free agent signed out of Missouri. He’s competing with Stanley, Keyes, and Stroman for a roster spot.