Live shots of players’ in-home celebrations have been one of the best parts of the NFL holding an all-virtual draft, but there wasn’t much of a scene at Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s place when the Bears chose him in the second round.
He looked far from enthusiastic about going 50th overall — seventh among cornerbacks — after believing he was a clear-cut first-rounder. He had barely any reaction other than nonchalantly looking around. Didn’t even get up from the couch.
“Definitely as a competitor and the expectations I had for myself, of course I expected to go a lot higher,” Johnson said. “But . . . I’m definitely forever grateful for the Bears to be that first team to believe in me and give me an opportunity to be able to provide for my family.
“I didn’t expect to be around for that pick. I definitely had some internal things going on in terms of that aspect. But I’m forever grateful.”
He should quickly get his chance to stick it to everyone who overlooked him.
The Bears came into the draft with only two picks in the first four rounds and made wise use of them by taking a tight end and cornerback. Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet was their choice at No. 43 overall.
At corner, Johnson will get an opportunity to win a starting job opposite Kyle Fuller and eventually take over as the Bears’ top cover man. Fuller, 28, is likely to hit free agency after the 2021 season.
They cut veteran Prince Amukamara in February, leaving a crew of unproven reserves to vie for his spot. The leading candidate among the returning cornerbacks is Kevin Toliver, who made the team as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Toliver has two career starts and played 16 percent of the defensive snaps last season.
The Bears also picked up free agent Artie Burns from the Steelers. He fizzled in Pittsburgh after going No. 25 overall in 2016.
Johnson emerged as an NFL prospect his sophomore season, when he had four interceptions and 41 tackles. His production fell to two picks and 36 tackles while playing hurt as a junior.
He is 6-foot, 193 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. He is also oozing with confidence and when asked for a scouting report on himself, he began with, “Honestly, I’m a baller.”
The Bears chose Johnson over Alabama’s Trevon Diggs (No. 51 to the Cowboys) and LSU’s Kristian Fulton (No. 61 to the Titans) despite significant concerns about both shoulders.
Because of coronavirus-related restrictions, teams were limited in how much they could vet a player’s health or host prospects at their facilities.
Johnson said he spoke with the Bears “a couple times” leading up to the draft, including a videoconference a few days ago, and wasn’t sure how they went about analyzing his medical records. That’s of particular concern after he unknowingly played through a torn labrum in his right shoulder last season.
“Very comfortable,” general manager Ryan Pace said when asked how he felt about Johnson’s medical history. “He missed one game in two years. He played through the injury last year, which I think says a lot about him and who he is.
“This will be something that will limit him for some of the offseason program, but we feel really comfortable just with our doctors and trainers and the work we did on it. We expect him to be healthy when we need him.”
Johnson played through a torn labrum in his right shoulder — he didn’t know until after the season — as a junior and had surgery shortly after the combine. The typical five-month recovery time for that injury would put him in question for the scheduled start of training camp. Johnson also said he has had two surgeries on his left shoulder.
Nonetheless, he doesn’t think it’ll be an issue.
“My shoulder is fixed and I’m ready to go,” Johnson said.
But one thing he’s not ready to move on from is being snubbed. He might not ever get over it.
“I’m not going to forget about it,” Johnson said. “I’m going to go out and show who I am, what I could’ve been bringing and ... do all I can to make teams regret the decision.”