Chicago Bears Position Battles: Will Kevin Toliver Top Artie Burns at Corner?

Chicago Bears cornerbacks

Getty Kevin Toliver II of the Chicago Bears.

One of the primary questions surrounding the Chicago Bears defense entering next season is what the cornerback position look like without Prince Amukamara. The Bears chose to release the veteran corner, saving $9 million in cap space in doing so. Amukamara still hasn’t caught on anywhere else yet, but alongside All-Pro Kyle Fuller, he was one of two starters at corner for Chicago over the last three seasons, so the secondary will look different without him.

While Fuller is a lock to start at the right corner slot, the left corner spot will be one of the team’s most intriguing positions to watch. Here’s a breakdown of who will be battling to play cornerback for the Chicago Bears in 2020:

RCB: All-Pro Kyle Fuller, Duke Shelley, and Stephen Denmark

Fuller played 99.72 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season, and he has only missed two games in his five seasons, both in his rookie season in 2014. He has covered the right-center of the field well in his tenure with the Bears, and has managed to avoid any serious injuries. If Fuller should get bitten by the injury bug, the Bears’ depth behind him is largely young and untested.

Duke Shelley, who the Bears drafted in the sixth round with the 205th overall pick last year, played minimally in 2019. A bit undersized at 5’9″ and just over 180 lbs., Shelley’s snaps were primarily on special teams his roomie year. He played 12.74 percent of his snaps on special teams and just .75 percent of his snaps on defense, so his experience at corner is minimal. Shelley played well in zone coverages at Kansas State, but the NFL is a major step up from the collegiate ranks.

Denmark is on a reserved/future contract, and was taken by the Bears in the seventh round of the 2019 draft. Denmark was a member of the Bears’ practice squad last season and did not play in a regular season game. His size is a definite asset (he’s 6’3″, and 220 lbs.), but he may still be a bit too raw to fill in for Fuller if needed. That’s why this next group is so important.

LCB: Buster Skrine, Artie Burns, Tre Roberson, and Kevin Toliver II

The Bears signed Skrine to a three-year, $16.5 million deal last year, and he has turned out to be an asset to an already talented secondary. The knock on Skrine prior to the Bears signing him was that he drew too many penalties. But in his first year with the Bears, Skrine was one of the least penalized players on the team. This could be a good sign for Burns, who Chicago  just picked up earlier this month.

During a strong rookie season in 2016, Burns started nine games for the Steelers. He had three interceptions, 13 passes defensed, and two tackles for loss that year. The three picks remain his career high, but he has had far fewer opportunities to make plays in recent years, as he has been benched due to poor play. A change of scenery — and playing on a defense that includes Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, and Akiem Hicks couldn’t hurt, either. Burns could turn out to be an x-factor this coming season should injury befall the usually reliable Fuller or Skrine.

Depth is also needed in strong secondaries, and Toliver may be the most intriguing cornerback competing for a spot on the roster. Toliver played 16.31 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps last season, and he has started one game in each of his first two seasons. Burns is far more experienced, but Toliver is more familiar with this Bears defense, and if Burns fails to impress, expect Toliver to emerge in an increased role.

In their given opportunities, Burns has allowed a 77.4 percent completion rate, while Toliver’s is at 58.3 percent, so Toliver will have an opportunity to beat Burns out if he’s healthy.

Also in the mix is former CFL standout Roberson, who is a bit of a Wild Card. While he played well in Canada, Roberson never made it past the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad prior to signing with the Bears. Whether he can be a solid role player remains to be seen, but he was one of the most sought-after CFL free agents, so it will be interesting to see what he does with this opportunity. If Shelley or Denmark fail to make an impression, Roberson could sneak onto the roster.

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