With the first pick of the Ryan Poles era in Chicago the Bears drafted Kyler Gordon at 39th overall last spring. Poles approached his first draft with the idea of selecting the best players possible, regardless of position. With his two second-round picks, that meant a pair of defensive backs in Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker nine picks later.
The investment in the secondary looks to be paying off. With Gordon teamed up with veteran Jaylon Johnson, the Bears have what they believe are two solid NFL corners in their secondary. After a slow start, Gordon played better and better as the season went along. Head coach Matt Eberflus should feel as if he has the makings of a quality secondary.
Here’s a look back on what went well and what didn’t at the cornerback position in 2022.
The 23-year-old Johnson continues to look like a top talent at cornerback. In 11 games, he totaled 35 combined tackles, seven passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Gordon had three interceptions as a rookie, six passes defended, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He played in the slot frequently, which is not an easy thing to ask a rookie to do. He also played on the boundary when the defense was in the base 4-3 package.
Kindle Vildor dealt with injuries, but when he was healthy he played better than he did in 2021, when he was benched midway through the season. He is a reliable, if not spectacular, corner.
Rookie Josh Blackwell didn’t play a ton at corner, but he consistently impressed his special teams coaches as a gunner.
Gordon started off slow and Aaron Rodgers picked on him quite a bit in a Week 2 matchup at Lambeau Field. But even during that game, Gordon was never glaringly out of position. It was more about making small adjustments.
By the end of the season, Gordon was making those types of adjustments. Unfortunately, he missed three games late in the season with a concussion.
In general, injuries were an issue with this unit. Johnson missed a total of six games because of injury. His 11 starts were the lowest in his three-year NFL career. Vildor dealt with an ankle injury that limited him to only 11 games.
1. Poles said he never imagined Gordon would fall to the Bears at the No. 39 overall pick in the draft. He was ecstatic when that exact scenario played out on day two of the draft. The Bears selected one of the best athletes and ballhawks available with the first pick of the Poles era. It was the first step toward reshaping the defense in Eberflus’ image.
.@kyler_gordon, are you ready to be a Bear? pic.twitter.com/0aGai7JK3C— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) April 30, 2022
2. After returning from a concussion in December, Gordon had interceptions in back-to-back games against Philadelphia and Buffalo. He found himself in the right place at the right time against the Eagles on Dec. 18 when Jalen Hurts escaped the pocket and heaved a pass down field. Gordon’s coaches later said he wasn’t in a great position on that play, but his ability to recover allowed him to create a turnover. A week later, he picked off Josh Allen in the end zone.
"I'll take that" -@kyler_gordon, 2022— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 18, 2022
📺: #PHIvsCHI on FOX pic.twitter.com/OxKws2kTIs
3. The matchup between Johnson and Eagles receiver A.J. Brown was one of the biggest individual matchups of the season. Johnson broke up three passes in that game and totaled six tackles. Brown connected with Hurts for a couple of huge plays, however, which ballooned his stat line to nine catches for 181 yards. Johnson, unfortunately, left late in the game with an injury.
Johnson and Vildor have one season remaining on their rookie contracts. Gordon has three. Harrison Hand and Michael Ojemudia are under contract for one more season. Blackwell is an exclusive rights free agent. Breon Borders is a restricted free agent. Greg Stroman Jr. signed a futures contract with the Bears.
The Bears ranked 17th among NFL defenses against the pass. They could use more turnovers from the cornerback position.
Johnson is going to command a big contract. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Bears give him an extension before the season.
This probably is one of the few positions where Poles could afford to stand pat with Johnson, Gordon and Vildor as the starters. Vildor is the weak link of the group, but he’s still an experienced starter. The Bears could bring in a day three draft pick to challenge for that third spot.
Spending in free agency at cornerback doesn’t make sense, especially with a potential Johnson contract extension on the horizon.