While Javon Wims has garnered much of the Bears’ preseason hype, another notable rookie’s performance is being overlooked. That man is Kevin Toliver.
A five-star recruit out of high school, Toliver landed at LSU, where he played well in his rookie year, accounting for 35 tackles, an interception, and 5 pass deflections. His sophomore year was cut short by a shoulder injury, and he had a shaky junior season, posting 27 tackles, an interception, and 10 pass deflections.
When the NFL Draft ended without him being selected, and the Bears signed Toliver as an undrafted free agent, he was heralded as a steal, among the best of the undrafted rookie class. Toliver was rated as a late-round pick, but his injury history, a lack of production, and character concerns made him fall out of the draft. While he has the ideal size, he lacks ball skills. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote:
Toliver was a top-rated recruit who was largely disappointing relative to expectations at LSU. However, his play showed improvement this season and he has the size and physical ability that teams are typically willing to bet on. Toliver lacks premium ball skills but his size and physicality could be a good match for a zone-heavy unit or with a potential move to safety. Toliver’s value lies more in his traits than his production and teams will have to weigh his future potential against his past history — both on and off the field.
The biggest knock on him was character concerns, and whether he was driven to be great and loved the game of football. Many coaches had expressed displeasure with his attitude throughout his football career. When the Bears signed Toliver, head coach Matt Nagy stated that he would have a clean slate, and would have to prove himself. Thus far, has he?
After starting off training camp strong with multiple interceptions in the first few days, Toliver missed the first two games of the preseason but was among the Bears leaders in snap count each of the past two weeks.
Against Denver in Week two of the preseason, Toliver had an up-and-down game. He played tight coverage at times but allowed a couple of big catches and big plays. The most noticeable thing from this game was that even if Toliver was in good position, he didn’t have the ball skills to deflect the pass or prevent the catch. The most notable play that he allowed was a touchdown to Broncos rookie second round pick Courtland Sutton.
On this play, it seemed as though there was a miscommunication between Toliver and safety Deon Bush, or that Toliver just read the route wrong. Toliver shifted outside, as did Bush, leaving Sutton open inside the numbers.
A perfect throw and catch by QB Chad Kelly and Sutton proved to be just enough for the Broncos, as Toliver was was still a step away from the ball. While we don’t know what caused the miscommunication, and whose fault it was, Toliver still showed good recovery, and if the pass wasn’t right on the money, Toliver could have still broken it up.
Later in the third quarter, Toliver got mossed by Broncos WR Tim Patrick. On the play, Toliver fell for a quick fake by Patrick, which was enough for Patrick to beat him. Once again, this shows how Toliver has to improve his ball skills, as he was in a position to have a shot at breaking up the pass, but didn’t turn his head, and went for the tackle as opposed to the ball.
Against the Chiefs in Week three of the preseason, Toliver had a much better game, not giving up any big plays, and remaining relatively quiet. While he played right cornerback against the Broncos, Toliver switched to left cornerback in Week 3, shutting down Chiefs’ speedsters Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.
Toliver held Chiefs’ receivers to under 10 yards, despite being a reserve cornerback lining up against the Chiefs best offensive weapons.
After reviewing the film, I was very impressed by Toliver’s performance, as he rarely got beat by Hill and Watkins, before giving way to John Franklin III in the middle of the third quarter. Toliver’s performance against the Chiefs showed vast improvement over his performance against the Broncos, especially considering it was against two of the more feared receivers in the game, as opposed to players fighting for a roster spot.
Toliver has a solid chance to make the roster, but he must play well against the Bills in the last preseason game this week. Toliver has shown potential, and although there is some competition from Doran Grant and Michael Joseph, who have also played well, Toliver has shown the most promise. Toliver could be the Bears’ best reserve outside corner, behind Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara, while Cre’von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan compete for the slot job.
However, it is close, considering that players like Joseph have played more games at a similar level of play. Toliver fits well with the Bears’ defense, and Ed Donatell needs another young corner to develop. Toliver is too talented for the Bears to try to sneak onto the practice squad, and it seems as though he has alleviated character concerns, since he is still on the Bears.
My prediction is he makes the 53-man roster, and plays sparingly this season as a reserve defensive back. Toliver has the potential to develop into a solid starting cornerback, and could be Ryan Pace’s next success story if Ed Donatell and Vic Fangio can work their magic once again.
Follow Kedar on Twitter–Feature Photo Credit: Bears.com