The Chicago Bears selected three defensive backs in the 2022 NFL draft, an indication that general manager Ryan Poles is looking to shore up what was the defense’s biggest weakness last year.
Chicago used their first two draft picks on defensive backs — cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker, who both protect to be Day 1 starters for the Bears. Chicago also circled back around in the seventh round to add depth in safety Elijah Hicks, who becomes the fourth safety on the roster.
Following the addition of three defensive backs during the draft, here’s a look at the Bears’ secondary depth:
Jaylon Johnson is heading into his second season where he’s the clear-cut No. 1 cornerback for the Bears. Johnson is coming off another encouraging year, where he logged his first career interception. While Johnson would like to see an uptick in takeaways, he proved that he can rise to the challenge against some of the best in the league. There aren’t any concerns about Johnson’s ability, but there are questions elsewhere.
Kyler Gordon provides a huge upgrade at cornerback, where the expectation is he’ll contribute immediately as a rookie opposite Johnson on the outside. He’s a versatile, athletic cornerback who had plenty of production during his time at Washington. Gordon has the potential to develop into a lockdown corner at the NFL level, and his pairing with Johnson should have fans excited. For what it’s worth, Gordon never allowed a touchdown in 18 collegiate starts. Chicago got a good one in Gordon.
Eddie Jackson has come under scrutiny over the last couple of years, but he has a fresh slate in Matt Eberflus’ defense. He hasn’t managed an interception in the last two seasons after notching 10 in his first three years. Jackson has the second-highest cap hit at $15.09 million, and he’s going to need to rebound in this new defense.
Jaquan Brisker was a great value pick for the Bears at 48th overall, and he addresses a big need in the secondary. Brisker projects to serve as a starter opposite Jackson at safety, where Chicago gets another ball-hawk for Matt Eberflus’ defense. Brisker is an instinctive athlete with a nice combination of size, speed and strength and he has the potential to develop into an impact contributor for the Bears for years to come.
Thomas Graham Jr. spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad, where it took the entire starting secondary getting COVID-19 for him to finally get an opportunity. And Graham certainly made the most of it. Graham was impressive in his first NFL start, where he had seven tackles and three pass breakups against the Vikings in Week 15, and he immediately showed that he’s a potential star in the making. He’ll have the chance to compete for playing time in the secondary.
Tavon Young is an intriguing addition for the Bears. Young is an immediate upgrade at the nickelback position, where you figure he’s the favorite to win the starting job. He’s someone who’s been a valuable asset when he’s been able to stay healthy. Young suffered a torn ACL in 2017, a season-ending neck injury in 2019 and tore his same ACL again in 2020. He’ll have a chance to help get a Bears secondary that struggled back on track.
The Bears have only re-signed two players that were on the roster last season, and the most important is safety DeAndre Houston-Carson. While he’s not a big name, he’s someone who’s proven to a be a key contributor on special teams and as a depth piece at safety as he can step in when needed. Houston-Carson is coming off a career year with Chicago, where he totaled 51 tackles, four pass breakups, one interception, two fumble recoveries and a defensive touchdown.
Dane Cruikshank is an intriguing addition for the Bears. While he wasn’t a full-time starter during his time with the Titans, he stepped up when called upon. Cruikshank earned the nickname of “Tight End Eraser” for his ability to contend with the likes of Kansas City’s Travis Kelce, among others. While it’s unlikely he’ll serve as a starter opposite Jackson, Cruikshank is a valuable depth option who will be a core special teamer for Chicago.
Kindle Vildor started last season as the starting outside cornerback opposite Johnson last season. But he finished the year as a reserve after a year where he was a liability in the secondary. Vildor was targeted weekly by opposing offenses, where he was eventually replaced by Artie Burns in a Thanksgiving matchup against the Lions. While Vildor made some plays down the stretch, he didn’t prove to be a starting cornerback. Heading into 2022, he’ll serve as a depth piece.
Following the departure of Buster Skrine last offseason, Duke Shelley was primed to step into that role as starting nickelback. Shelley was limited to just nine games due to injury and COVID-19. But when he was on the field, it was a mixed bag. While Shelley had his moments, he didn’t do anything to prove that he’s earned a starting job on defense. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, Shelley projects to be a reserve in the slot and a special teams contributor.
Elijah Hicks provides additional depth at safety for the Bears. The seventh-round pick is a versatile defensive back who has experience playing cornerback and both safety positions, which should help him in competing for a roster spot. Hicks projects to serve as a special teams contributor who has the potential to work his way up to being a starter down the road.
Greg Stroman Jr. is another depth option at cornerback for the Bears. A former seventh-round pick, Stroman started 15 games as a rookie for Washington in 2018, where he totaled 38 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. Unfortunately, injuries derailed his career, playing in three games between 2019-20 prior to his release ahead of the 2021 season. Now, he’s looking for a fresh start in Chicago.
The Bears signed Lamar Jackson — not that Lamar Jackson — to a reserve/future contract earlier this offseason. Jackson, an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska, spent most of last season on the practice squad. He did show encouraging signs as a rookie in 2020, where he appeared in 13 games with six starts. In Chicago, Jackson figures to compete for a depth role in the secondary, where his special teams experience will serve as his best way to potentially earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
Chicago signed Michael Joseph to a reserve/future contract earlier this offseason, which means he’ll be entering his fifth year with the Bears. He’s been a mainstay on their practice squad, where he made his NFL debut in Week 15 against the Vikings. Joseph projects to be a practice squad candidate once again heading into the 2022 season.
BoPete Keyes was another cornerback signed to a reserve/future deal this offseason, where he figures to serve as a depth piece and special teams contributor on this roster. Last year, he made his Bears debut in Week 15 against the Vikings, where he appeared on special teams as a reserve. Keyes projects to be a practice squad candidate heading into 2022.