The Bears’ 2022 draft class received its first glimpse of organizational greatness Thursday. Cornerback Charles Tillman visited the rookies inside George “Mugs” Halas Auditorium at Halas Hall.
“We watched him at (Washington) all the time,” cornerback Kyler Gordon said. “We always practiced the ‘Peanut Punch’ and then he walked behind us, and I was like, ‘Damn, that’s him!’ That was cool.”
Tillman’s presence also resonated with the offensive players.
“The greatness, the determination,” receiver Velus Jones Jr. said. “He really fired me up, even though he was a defensive-sided guy. Just showing even the history here: What are the standards?”
Tillman, of course, set his own. His fumble-inducing “Peanut Punch” is now taught across the country at every level of football.
“The message Tillman had was outstanding the other day,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “Just about being a pro, being a Chicago Bear and what it means to him and what it means to the fans and what it means to the city. To me, you can’t have enough of that.”
When it comes to defining short- and long-term expectations for the Bears’ rookies, Tillman also is an interesting case study, particularly after the team drafted Gordon in the second round.
The 35th pick in 2003, Tilman didn’t start until the fourth game of his rookie season. He replaced Jerry Azumah and never looked back. But Tillman didn’t earn Pro Bowl honors until his ninth season or become an All-Pro until his 10th, though his play arguably warranted accolades early.
Here’s a look at what’s ahead for the Bears’ 2022 draft class, starting with Gordon and their other Day 2 picks.
Kyler Gordon, BC, Washington
Round 2, 39th overall
Where he fits in 2022: On the field opposite cornerback Jaylon Johnson. Gordon should be a starter in Week 1. If he’s not, he should only be because of injuries. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Gordon will begin his Bears career outside at cornerback, despite possessing the versatility and tenacity to play inside at nickel. Gordon’s side of the field will be determined later.
“We’ll see how much he can do and how much we can push him,” Williams said.
If Gordon doesn’t become a full-time starter at some point during his rookie season, that’s a bad sign. Some cornerbacks never develop at the rate wanted by the teams that draft them.
For example, the 2018 draft class featured several misses at cornerback: Mike Hughes (30th, Vikings), Josh Jackson (45th, Packers), MJ Stewart (53rd, Buccaneers) and Duke Dawson (56th, Patriots). Carlton Davis, the 63rd pick, signed a three-extension with the Buccaneers. He started 12 games as a rookie.
Where he fits in the long term: Gordon’s arrival comes at an interesting point in Johnson’s career. Gordon is the first selection of the Ryan Poles/Eberflus era. Johnson must prove himself this season, which is the third year of his rookie contract. When it comes to Eberflus’ review of Johnson’s film, there are a few “loafs” to discuss with the cornerback. He also didn’t participate in voluntary minicamp last month.
In Gordon, the Bears surely hope they drafted their next Tillman. He became a prototypical Lovie Smith player, particularly for his ability to force takeaways. But he wasn’t drafted by Smith in 2003. He was selected by former general manager Jerry Angelo, who hired Smith in 2004. Dick Jauron was still the Bears coach in 2003.
There are connections, though.
Chris Ballard was the Bears’ lead area scout on Tillman. He sold the Bears on him. Ballard is the current general manager of the Colts, Eberflus’ former team. Tillman also thrived playing for Rod Marinelli, the Bears’ former defensive coordinator under Smith. Marinelli was Eberflus’ mentor in Dallas. He picked up his HITS philosophy from Marinelli.
Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State
Round 2, 48th overall
Where he fits in 2022: On the field next to safety Eddie Jackson. Just like Gordon, Brisker should be a starter in Week 1. If he’s not, he should only be because of injuries. Williams explained that Brisker fit the Bears’ “M&M” principle: motor and mean. Williams also said the Bears coaching and scouting staffs were united on their evaluation of Brisker. If that’s the case, he should be on the field immediately.
Where he fits in the long term: If Gordon gets to connect with Tillman, the Bears should get Brisker in touch with former safety
Similar to Brown, there are leadership and culture-forming intangibles to consider with Brisker. He’s not only a Week 1 starter but potentially a Day 1 leader for the Bears. Brown had the same effect on the Bears after he was drafted. It’s early in the offseason program, but Williams can already see signs of Brisker’s leadership abilities.
“The one thing that comes through is he’s self-assured on the football field,” Williams said. “There is no doubt about it. He gets in the huddle. He makes the calls. He’s moving fast. He’s not moving like a rookie. That other part (the leadership) will come out as we go.”
Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker combined to only allow 1 TD since 2020
—PFF College (@PFF_College) May 8, 2022
Velus Jones Jr., WR/KR, Tennessee
Round 3, 71st overall
Where he fits in 2022: He’ll be on the field, but where? It’s what the Bears want to figure out. But the organization’s belief in him is apparent. Jones’ contributions might start on special teams, but there will be snaps on offense.
“We want versatile guys — guys that can do a bunch of different things,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said.
That’s Jones, from jet sweeps to quick screens. It might not always work well on the field. The Bears’ offensive line needs to improve. But Jones apparently will get his opportunities early on.
“We don’t want just one guy that can run down the field,” Getsy said. “We don’t want just one guy that can run a choice route. We want guys that can do a bunch of different things. He definitely has that versatility, so that’s really cool.”
Where he fits in the long term: Jones might earn himself a “gadget player” label as a rookie. Overcoming it depends on whether he can develop as a receiver, and the Bears desperately need him to. It’s a thin position and he’s the only receiver they drafted. Devin Hester, whom Jones looks up to, never was able to truly do that for the Bears.
It helps to have a young quarterback to work with, especially one in Justin Fields who wants to connect. Darnell Mooney can tell Jones all about that. Forming a relationship with Fields on and off the field already comes as a priority for Jones. Their lockers also are next to each other.
“We’ve been texting on the phone and FaceTime and just manifesting what’s to come,” Jones said.
There are reasons to question Jones’ ceiling. He was the 14th receiver taken in the draft, and he turns 25 this week.
Or it’s possible that the Bears just drafted a late bloomer who turned his final college season into career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, while playing in the SEC and still becoming the conference’s special teams player of the year. At the very least, Jones sounds ready to prove himself.
“I’m coming in with maturity,” Jones said. “I’m all about my business. I was young, but now that I’m older, I realize what’s at stake, and this is the best job in the world.”
(Photo of Kyler Gordon: Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)