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Navigating Bears Markets: Analyzing Jaylon Johnson’s Rookie Season

Analyzing notable trends and potential areas of concern following Jaylon Johnson’s rookie season.

Jaylon Johnson Chicago Bears
Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

Jaylon Johnson jumped onto the scene with the Chicago Bears and excelled early. As the 2020 season wore on, he began to show some faults. He still put together a promising rookie campaign, but he has some issues to iron out. Below, I go into further detail on where he excelled and where he struggled.

Johnson played his final game of the season in Week 14. He missed the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. The shoulder ailment is concerning, especially considering it was an issue for him in college and required surgery prior to his rookie season.

In Week 10 against Minnesota, Johnson sat out ten snaps mid-game due to an ankle injury. While he would return later that game, he did not look the same in that game or the remaining games. For this reason, I divided his season in the below analysis to before that game and after.

Criteria:

In this exercise, we are looking at how cornerbacks have historically performed in their rookie seasons. These players were full-time starters in their respective rookie seasons and played a significant number of snaps. Details below:

  • Drafted between 2016-2020
  • CB must have played 500-plus coverage snaps in their rookie year
  • Excludes CBs who spent majority of playing time defending the slot. Slot CB/Nickel CB is just a different position with different metrics. Slot CBs do not always compare very cleanly to boundary CBs

Note: The snap percentages do not line up exactly, as some are impossible to decipher the coverage. The man and zone coverage tables below exclude these snaps.

Total Coverage Snaps

The below stats detail the production of each CB in their rookie year across all pass coverage snaps. Later, we will break down stats in man coverage vs. stats in zone coverage. There were 18 CBs meeting the noted criteria, the majority of whom were either first- or second-round picks. They are listed in order of their average rank across the listed categories.

Note that there are three different rows for Jaylon Johnson:

  • Jaylon Johnson: This represents his entire rookie season.
  • Johnson Gms 1-9: This represents the first nine games of the season. In these games, the Bears defense faced offenses with an average DVOA rank of 12th and average passing DVOA rank of 15th.
  • Johnson Gms 10-13: This represents the final four games that Johnson played in 2020. In these games, the Bears defense faced offenses with an average DVOA rank of tenth, and average passing DVOA rank of tenth.
Rookie CBs 2016-2020, all pass coverage snaps
  • Johnson was on pace to challenge Tre’Davious White for the best rookie completion percentage allowed through Week 9 at a rate of 50%. However, over the final four games of the season, he allowed a completion percentage of 72.7%.
  • The Bears’ rookie CB was also on pace to post a solid figure for yards per coverage snap at 1.05 through nine games. However, Johnson allowed 1.35 yards per coverage snap over his final four games, dropping his season rate to 1.13, ranking 11th.
  • Six CBs posted yards per coverage snap below 1.00 in their rookie years. This group includes Denzel Ward (0.84), Tre’Davious White (0.92), Tavon Young (0.92), Adoree’ Jackson (0.93), Byron Murphy (0.96), and Shaqill Griffin (0.98).
  • The three keys stats I want to focus on for CBs is completion percentage allowed, yards per target, and yards per coverage snap. The respective averages for the group in these categories are 61.5% completion, 8.00 yards per target, and 1.15 yards per coverage snap.
  • There have been seven CBs to beat the average in all three categories since 2016. This includes James Bradberry, Jalen Ramsey, Adoree’ Jackson, Shaquille Griffin, Denzel Ward, Daryl Worley, and Tre’Davious White.
  • Through nine games, Johnson was a member of this group of CBs. Over his final four games, Johnson’s yards per target bloated from 7.9 to 8.2 due to allowing 8.9 yards per target in that stretch.

Man Coverage

The below stats detail the production of each CB in their rookie year across man-coverage snaps. The CBs are listed in order of their average rank across the listed categories.

Rookie CBs 2016-2020, man coverage pass snaps
  • Johnson ranked as the best rookie CB in man coverage since 2016, through his first nine games. He was average or better in every category listed except for yards per completion and interception rate.
  • The interception rate is not a major concern, since a quality man coverage CB can be extremely valuable without major ball production. However, Johnson’s yards per target figure shows a tendency to get burned when he does get beat, which could be a concern worth watching.
  • Johnson still ranked highly in most categories after the ninth game of the season but did endure a notable drop-off across the board.
  • Johnson’s completion percentage allowed increased 10% over the final four games, as he allowed 80% completion over that stretch.
  • His TD percentage allowed nearly doubled in the final four games of the season from 10.5% to 20%.

Zone Coverage

The below stats detail the production of each CB in their rookie year across zone-coverage snaps. The CBs are listed in order of their average rank across the listed categories.

Rookie CBs 2016-2020, zone coverage pass snaps
  • Johnson struggled more in zone coverage all year long. He showed a tendency to miss tackles and allow too many yards after the catch when in zone coverage. This came with the territory in selecting him, as there were questions surrounding his zone coverage abilities in the draft. The concept generally is that you can teach a good man coverage CB how to play zone, but it is difficult to teach the ability to play effective man defense.
  • Production in zone coverage also dropped off for Johnson in the final four games, but not as steeply as it dropped off in man coverage.
  • Johnson’s completion percentage allowed took a dive in zone coverage as well, as he allowed 73.3% completion in the final four games versus 54.3% in the previous nine games.
  • The Utah product’s yards after catch per completion was poor all year long in zone coverage, as it became an issue in the final four games. This actually is paired with an improvement in his missed tackle rate, leading me to believe that he was playing more conservatively. This could be caused by sacrificing yards in front of him in order to not allow anybody behind him.

As always, you can follow on Twitter at @ButkusStats.

Previous installments of Navigating Bears Markets can be found HERE.


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I like spreadsheets and football. I aim to take an analytical approach to my football research while also realizing the physical nature of football and how that impacts the numbers. While my main focus is Chicago Bears, I also write about the NFL as a whole.

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1 year ago

[…] last year’s second round pick Jaylon Johnson set to take over the role left by former All-Pro corner Kyle Fuller, everything else seems up in […]

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