Tyrique Stevenson's Higher Starting Point Goes Unrecognized

Tyrique Stevenson's late-season surge lifted him out of the ranks of struggling cornerbacks even if it hasn't been completely acknowledged.
Tyrique Stevenson breaks up a throw intended for Jakobi Meyers in the Bears' win over the Raiders last season.
Tyrique Stevenson breaks up a throw intended for Jakobi Meyers in the Bears' win over the Raiders last season. / Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
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Tyrique Stevenson is a great deal like the baseball batter who goes 0-for-90, then figures something out and finishes his season 10-for-10.

His final batting average of .100 will make him a laughingstock but after his discovery at the end people had better watch out in the future.

Stevenson is labeled one of the most targeted cornerbacks in the league in a Pro Football Focus article by Mason Cameron, and this was true.

That was last year but this is this year, as they say.

PFF's grading system always leaves players too heavily entrenched if they have a bad start and the final grades almost always fail to reflect big surges players make. Stevenson definitely made one.

He's part of the reason so much is expected for the Bears secondary this year.

"Five qualifying cornerbacks were targeted on more than 20% of their coverage snaps," Cameron wrote, pointing out Alontae Taylor, Stevenson and Eli Apple were in this grouping.

Defenses kept on targeting Stevenson even though he eventually made them pay.

"Playing across from an elite cornerback talent presents unique challenges, understandably leaving a crosshair on the opposite cornerback—the very situation Tyrique Stevenson found himself in as the counterpart to PFF’s top-rated cornerback, Jaylon Johnson," Cameron wrote.

They had to target someone if it wasn't going to be Johnson, and so it was Stevenson.

Stevenson allowed nine TD passes according to PFF and Sportradar. PFF claims it was tied for the most in the league but Sportradar has James Bradberry of the Eagles two ahead of Stevenson for that dubious distinction with 11 allowed.

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What Cameron failed to point out was how teams kept on targeting Stevenson down the stretch and the results were much different. By then the improvement took hold.

Stevenson finished on fire. He had four interceptions in the last six games. Not only did Stevenson finish with those interceptions, but in his last seven games he only gave up two of the nine TD passes.

What also must be remembered about that finish was half of the games came with Johnson not playing opposite Stevenson. The Bears All-Pro suffered a season-ending finger injury and missed the final three games. And Stevenson kept on improving anyway. The targets didn't really go down but his production went up.

PFF also shortchanged Stevenson on pass breakups with 13 and they ranked him 80th overall among cornerbacks and 84th in pass coverage.

By season's end, he didn't look like an 80th-ranked cornerback at all.

The 33rd Team and Sportradar had him for 16 pass breakups on the year, not 13. The 33rd Team more appropriately characterized the progress Stevenson showed in an article by Marcus Mosher about NFC players on defense who could break out this year.

"Given how well his rookie season went, it wouldn't be surprising for him to level up his game further," Mosher wrote. "With the Bears' defense rapidly improving, this could be a Pro Bowl-type season for their second-year player from Miami (FL)."

Bears coach Matt Eberflus saw the improvement as partly the result of how veterans kept Stevenson focused during the rough start and also the coaching staff's willingness to play rookies. Coaches have had no problem doing this throughout the first two seasons, although they pretty much had to do it when their roster was so weak in Year 1.

"That's really part of a function of us playing the young guys, rookies, fast," Eberflus said. "Putting them in there and playing them right away, like Kyler (Gordon), like (Jaquan) Brisker.

"I think the addition of KB (Kevin Byard) is really good. Great communicator, moves really well. Then you have two corners on the outside. You got Johnson, who has done an outstanding job last year, obviously, and then Tyrique. Really, my hats off to all the veterans for helping (Stevenson) out and bringing him along. He had a really good year last year and we expect more out of him this year."

This only makes sense after the way last year ended for Stevenson, even if the finish seemed to escape the attention of some people.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven


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Gene Chamberlain

GENE CHAMBERLAIN

BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Chicago Bears full time as a beat writer since 1994 and prior to this on a part-time basis for 10 years. He covered the Bears as a beat writer for Suburban Chicago Newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Copley News Service and has been a contributor for the Daily Herald, the Associated Press, Bear Report, CBS Sports.com and The Sporting News. He also has worked a prep sports writer for Tribune Newspapers and Sun-Times newspapers.