Bears Starter Most Likely to Be Challenged by a Rookie

The rookie most likely to challenge an incumbent starter is a player who impressed with a strong 2018 season and had some assistance from a former Bears player
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The Bears brought Duke Shelley in as a sixth-round draft pick last year to learn the ways of being a slot cornerback behind Buster Skrine.

Shelley didn't actually challenge for the job and had only eight defensive snaps all season, but Skrine could receive a real race for his job this year from rookie Kindle Vildor. The fifth-round draft pick who played at Georgia Southern is known as a physical, tough defender..

Skrine might be the only established starter receiving a challenge from a rookie because second-round tight end Cole Kmet, second-round cornerback Jaylon Johnson and fifth-round wide receiver Darnell Mooney are going into positions on the depth chart with open battles.

Vildor is confident in his abilities.

"To be honest you're getting an overall fundamentally sound cornerback that can play outside, inside, someone that's fluid, can play nickel, can play press, can play all—just a cornerback that can pretty much do anything in the back end that you need him to do, somebody with amazing ball skills, good speed, good strength and just ready to compete every single Sunday," Vildor said.

Vildor's skills in 2018 against Clemson caught the Bears' attention. 

It's not surprising his play stood out then because he was healthy. Last year he suffered through an ankle injury, playing in spite of it.

"He kind of showed up in that game, back in 2018," GM Ryan Pace said. "But just a consistent production throughout his college career. Another guy that went to the Senior Bowl and played well. I know he had a pick the the first practice. He had another interception in the game.

"So he's got high end ball skills. He can play inside, he can play outside. We stress confidence when we talk about the corner position and he definitely has that confidence and that playing demeanor that we look for. A skill set that also translates well to special teams which is going to be important especially in the early part of his development."

Vildor learned a little about the NFL draft process and pro football in general from former Bears running back Adrian Peterson, who is on the coaching staff at Georgia Southern.

"So him being around the last two years and him coming back to Georgia Southern, him just teaching me and just learning from him the things he went through coming out and the process and everything like that," Vildor said about Peterson's contribution. "So he's been a real big influence during this process and helping me get where I am today."

Skrine didn't play poorly last season, and probably outperformed based on expectations from the 78 penalties he'd piled up over seven years with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.

Skrine has to be considered a Bears starter since he was on the field 68% of snaps as the slot corner. He actually improved as in coverage, dropping his completion percentage allowed from 65.3% in 2018 with the Jets to 59.3% last year. His passer rating against also came down, all stats courtesy of official NFL stat partner Sportradar. He had a 91.8 passer rating against as opposed to 105.7 in New York. 

Skrine also cut down on yards allowed after the catch from 270 to 187, although his tackling suffered. He missed on 21.3% of tackles and only 14.7% the previous year.

By comparison, Bryce Callahan had missed on just 11.8% the previous year for the Bears.

The Bears need the slot cornerback to be as sure of a tackler as possible.

It's difficult to play the position when receivers can go any direction, and finishing tackles can be the difference between a first-down conversion on third down or a defensive stop.

Skrine did run a 4.37-second 40-yard dash in the combine but that was years ago. It's actually a faster time than anyone on their roster had at the combine.

Finishing with tackles at the end of the runs is as big as the speed, and Vildor might have the chance to be the more physical slot cornerback.

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