Top 5 most important Chicago Bears in 2024: No. 5 Jaylon Johnson

What motivates Johnson? ‘Being the best corner in the league’

Chicago Bears fans celebrate with cornerback Jaylon Johnson after his second interception during their game against the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Bears training camp is only a week away. Veteran players report for camp July 19 and practices begin July 20. The much-anticipated 2024 season is nearly here.

This week, Shaw Local is counting down the top five most important Bears players in 2024. What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?

The best player on the team isn’t always the most important, but he certainly can be. Check back all week to see the top five most important players.

Here’s a look at No. 5 on the list.

No. 5 Jaylon Johnson

Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson smiles as he listens to reporters during a news conference after the NFL team's mandatory minicamp football practice in Lake Forest, Ill., Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Position: Cornerback

Experience: Fifth season

Looking back: After the best season of Jaylon Johnson’s career in 2023, the Bears signed the second-team All-Pro cornerback to a huge new contract in March. The deal is for four years and $76 million and could keep him in a Bears uniform through the 2027 season. The 25-year-old also could hit free agency before he turns 30.

The new contract came after Johnson totaled four interceptions [including one returned for a touchdown], one forced fumble, 10 passes defended and 36 combined tackles during the 2023 season. He earned his first All-Pro nod and his first Pro Bowl appearance. It was a tumultuous season, too, for Johnson. After pushing for a new contract during the season he requested a trade at the trade deadline, but the Bears couldn’t find a deal they liked.

Locking up Johnson for the next four years was a big-time priority for the Bears. Johnson created more turnovers in 2023 than he ever had. He’s an elite coverage corner, even when he’s not creating turnovers. The previous few seasons, it was too easy for opponents to throw away from him. With more help around him on defense, Johnson shined in a secondary that was legitimately elite when everyone was healthy.

Looking forward: The Bears were a significantly better defense when Johnson was healthy last season. He missed two games early in the year with a hamstring injury, then missed the season finale with a shoulder injury.

If the Bears are going to take a big step forward in 2024, the defense needs to keep up the elite play that it finished last season with. The defense was among the best in the NFL during the final six games, when the team went 4-2. For the season, the Bears led the NFL with 22 interceptions. The hope is that the secondary picks up right where it left off in that regard. Johnson is expected to be a big part of that effort.

Getting off to a hot start defensively is all the more important with a rookie quarterback. The Bears are hoping the defense can make things easy for Caleb Williams. With so many new faces on offense, it might be a few weeks before the passing attack truly begins to gel.

Johnson is expected to be one of the stars of this defense. He’s strongly self-motivated. Signing his contract doesn’t change that.

Asked what motivates him now, Johnson said: “Being the best corner in the league.”

Being the best corner in the league.”

—  Jaylon Johson, Bears cornerback, on what motivates him

Last season was a great season, but Bears fans can rest assured that second-team All-Pro isn’t good enough for Johnson. Four interceptions wasn’t good enough [he dropped a couple other chances]. Johnson is aiming higher.

While the depth in the secondary is much better than it was two years ago, this group will likely still go as far as Johnson can take it.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.