Jaylon Johnson is set to enter his third season as the starting cornerback for the Chicago Bears, and he’s going to face a significant test Week 1 against wide receiver Deebo Samuel and the San Francisco 49ers.
Johnson finished with 46 total tackles (one for loss), a forced fumble and his first career interception last season, also leading the team with nine pass deflections (stats via Pro Football Reference). The 23-year-old says his numbers don’t back it up — at least not yet — but he believes he is one of the best cover men in the NFL.
“I’m already one of the top corners,” Johnson said on September 5. “I just haven’t had the stats to back that up in terms of interceptions. But if we’re talking about strictly limiting guys, covering guys, I don’t think there’s too many guys in this league that can cover better than me.”
He’ll have an opportunity to back that up in the season opener against Samuel.
Johnson: We Have to Limit Deebo’s YAC
The Bears lost to the 49ers, 33-22, Week 8 of last season, and Samuel torched Chicago, catching six passes for 171 yards in that game.
Johnson spoke with high regard about the 49ers wideout heading into their Week 1 showdown.
“I would just say after the catch, I feel like a lot of his stuff is YAC yards,” Johnson said about Samuel. “Just being turned into a running back after he catches the ball. We all know what he can do after he catches the ball, but I mean definitely a dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands.”
Samuel just signed a $71 million contract extension with $58.1 million in guaranteed money and Johnson was asked if going up against one of the league’s highest-paid receivers provided him with an opportunity to make a statement.
“100 percent, I mean, he just got paid,” Johnson replied. “Everybody looks at him as that top guy. I feel like people look at me as a top guy. So to go against him and then showcase what I can do is another step in the right direction for me.”
The Bears corner didn’t sound nearly as impressed with San Francisco’s quarterbacks, though.
Johnson on Trey Lance: ‘He’s Still Gotta Prove Himself to Me’
Last year in the 49ers’ win at Soldier Field, then-starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 322 yards and ran for a touchdown. This year, it’ll be second-year signal-caller Trey Lance getting the start.
When speaking about both QBs, Johnson gave Lance credit for his mobility, but he didn’t throw many compliments around.
“That don’t mean nothing to me,” Johnson replied when asked his thoughts about the 49ers re-signing Garoppolo to be a backup for Lance.
When asked what he thought about Lance, Johnson the down the gauntlet a bit, saying the Niners QB still has a lot to prove. “A young guy, he definitely has a strong arm,” Johnson said about Lance. “He can hurt us in the run game but he’s still got to prove himself to me.”
Lance is set to make his third career start against the Bears, and Johnson says he and the team plan to make up for the lack of tape on the young quarterback by studying 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
“Just try to go find old tape from Kyle Shanahan because he’s the one that’s going to be calling plays, so just try to find some tendencies from his standpoint and then really just try to go out there and make adjustments on the field,” Johnson said.
After his strong comments about his place among the league’s corners coupled with his comments about Lance, Johnson now has to back it up with his play on the field.