Kyle Whittingham has coached college football since 1985. He’s been a member of the Utah program since 1994 and their head coach since 2005. In that time he’s seen a lot of really good defensive backs come through that school. Andre Dyson had 22 interceptions in his NFL career. Sean Smith became a capable cornerback in Kansas City. Marcus Williams is an underrated safety for New Orleans. So when he says Jaylon Johnson might be one of the best secondary players he’s ever coached, that means something.

Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times spoke to the 60-year old coach following the Chicago Bears taking the cornerback in the 2nd round. Whittingham revealed that he knew almost right away that Johnson was different than other players he’d coached. There was only one other name he could recall that gave off a similar vibe.

Kyle Whittingham had long ago decided that his freshman cornerback had what it takes to play in the NFL. But it took him a couple weeks after Jaylon Johnson set foot on the Utah campus to figure out which player he reminded him of.

“Eric Weddle,” the head coach said. “Eric Weddle was in our program and he was all-business, just had a great focus and determination about him. There’s a lot of personality traits that Jaylon and Eric share. … They’re very, very similar in how they approach things.”

Jaylon Johnson and Weddle both embrace the mental challenges

Weddle is probably one of the most underrated safeties in the past 20 years. A two-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler. He recently retired with 29 interceptions, 9.5 sacks, and over 1,100 tackles in his career. That’s pretty remarkable considering he’s just 5’11 and 195 lbs. Every expert kept saying he was too small to survive at safety in the NFL. Then he ended up playing 13 years. One of the big reasons for his success was intelligence. There was probably no smarter defensive back in the league. Offenses could never get anything past him.

Johnson seems to have the same reputation. While an obvious physical talent with size and athleticism, he goes the extra mile with constant film breakdown. He’s always studying. Nobody will ever catch him unprepared and it has continued to pay off. This is why many feel he is an early favorite to start opposite Kyle Fuller. It’s also why the team is confident he has a bright career ahead of him.