Despite questions, Ryan Pace sees CB as a strength for Chicago Bears

When the Chicago Bears announced a flurry of roster moves on Wednesday afternoon, cornerback was among the key positions that raised major eyebrows for many. The Bears moved on from veteran Kyle Fuller this offseason while opting to keep just five cornerbacks: Artie Burns, Xavier Crawford, Jaylon Johnson, Duke Shelley, and Kindle Vildor.

In a pass-happy league, investing in cornerbacks is a necessity. Chicago’s front office will rely on talents like Johnson and Vildor to keep the team afloat but the Bears still need to do some due diligence on the cornerback market, especially as the dust begins to settle with rosters being fully trimmed across the league.

“What’s neat about that is there’s a mixture of young guys and vets,” said Bears general manager Ryan Pace via the team’s official YouTube Channel. “So you think about the corner position with Kindle Vildor, like we’re excited about where he’s heading and how he’s playing. Excited about Artie Burns and then obviously, Jaylon Johnson, he’s going to be a really good player for us for a long time. That’s not even getting into the nickles.”

Pace isn’t wrong. There is a mixture of young guys and veterans at the CB position for the Bears. Bruns is a former first-round pick who missed least season due to a torn ACL. Meanwhile, Johnson had 15 pass breakups as a rookie, setting the stage for what will be an intriguing sophomore campaign. Vildor has been praised by defensive coordinator Sean Desai throughout the offseason as a player who’s earned the right to play in the NFL.

Pace’s vote of confidence in the cornerback room is merely a general manager who’s willing to back and trust every decision that was made this offseason. Fuller’s release to save salary cap space while going all-in on a room filled with mostly day two and three picks will be a key point of conversation throughout the regular season, especially if younger players don’t continue to develop at the rate that the Bears are hoping they will.

31 questions for Chicago Bears camp: Is CB the biggest question on the roster?

With the calendar officially turned to July, we are just weeks away from the start of Chicago Bears training camp, which means that the 2021 regular season is approaching faster than ever. Cornerback was a positional group that underwent significant changes this offseason with  veterans Buster Skrine and Kyle Fuller being released.

The release of Skrine was justified but releasing Fuller led to questions about priorities on the Bears defense, despite Fuller’s cap hit of nearly $20M for the upcoming season. In a pass-happy league, the Bears opted to release a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, now leading to questions about the state of the position heading into 2021.

Outside of 2020 second-round pick Jaylon Johnson, Chicago does have some veterans in Artie Burns and Desmond Trufant. Add in rookie Thomas Graham Jr., and second-year CB Kindle Vildor with 2019 sixth-round pick Duke Shelley and Chicago has a number of options at the position.

Trufant and Burns are the most experienced players in the Bears CB room, with both being first-round picks in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Johnson was a second-round pick in 2020, with Graham Jr., Vildor, and Shelley being day three picks.

Bears CB’s will have a fair share of star wide receiver’s to face in 2021. An already tough schedule is even tougher when tasked with facing individual talents like DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry. Add in having to face the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it’s clear the Bears will need to rely on veteran safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson to cover up an unproven CB group.

Versatility is a quality that exists within Chicago’s CB group. Vildor, Shelley, and Burns can play on either the inside or the outside, giving the Bears multiple options when evaluating the position throughout training camp.

“We’re excited about developing some of these guys right now,” said defensive coordinator Sean Desai on the Bears official Youtube page. “We like the volume and depth we got there. We got to play football.”

As Chicago prepares for training camp, what happens at CB should be of immense interest. If someone such as Vildor or Graham Jr. emerge, it’s fair to cross off CB from the list of needs Chicago will have to address next offseason.

Chicago Bears roster bubble candidate: CB Artie Burns

Artie Burns, bears

Last offseason, the Chicago Bears opted to dip into the cornerback market in free agency, signing former first-round pick Artie Burns to a one-year deal only to see Burns tear his ACL during training camp, leading to a missed 2020 season. Once viewed as a promising part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ future, Burns experienced ups and downs throughout 2018 and 2019 in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would eventually decline the fifth-year option on Burns, making him an unrestricted free agent. The hope was that a change of scenery in Chicago could help the 26 year old revitalize his career.

Back with the Bears in 2021, Burns is still on the roster but the emergence of young players like Jaylon Johnson and Kindle Vildor have Burns on the outside looking in terms of making the final roster in 2021.

Let’s breakdown why Burns should and shouldn’t be on the roster in 2021 as we continue our roster bubble series here on Fireside Bears.

The case for keeping Burns

In the NFL, comeback and revival stories are always fun to watch and follow. Much of the same applies with Burns, who’ll need to use training camp as a way of proving that he belongs on the Bears roster. New defensive coordinator Sean Desai could also value Burns nose for the football and his ability to be solid when it comes to man coverage.

Listed at 6-foot-0 and 197 pounds, Burns’ length will also be an asset when shutting down bigger wide receivers. While he may not be a household name, Burns will be in competition with veterans like Desmond Trufant for the CB2 job, something that will be a key positional battle to monitor throughout training camp.

With 32 starts in 58 career games, Burns is the second most experienced NFL starter in Chicago’s CB room, behind Trufant. This amount of experience makes him another valuable asset as a sounding board for younger players in the room such as Johnson, Vildor, Duke Shelley, and Thomas Graham Jr., all players the Bears have drafted since 2019.

The case for cutting Burns

The biggest question with Burns is whether or not he’s fully healthy coming into 2021. Is he fully recovered from the ACL tear that cost him and will he be able to perform like the player who had 13 PBU’s and three interceptions as a rookie or will he look more like the player that started just one game in 2019, his final season in Pittsburgh.

Burns will also need to prove that he’s able to compete and outperform younger defensive backs on the Bears roster if he’s going to have a case for making the roster. If Burns is unable to outperform younger defensive backs, he’ll be amongst the first veterans sent packing when Chicago trims the roster down in late-August to prepare for the regular season.

Conclusion

There are multiple arguments for and against Burns but keeping him around would mean that Chicago has a veteran presence in a relatively young CB room, however, if the sixth-year veteran shows that he’s taken a step back, Burns won’t be on the opening day roster in 2021.