It’s not as if I wanted the Bears to completely ignore the defensive side of the ball on NFL Draft Weekend.
HOWEVER … it wasn’t high on my priority list. Nevertheless, I still had eyes on a few defensive positions the team could reel in some help in the later rounds of the draft. One of those positions as cornerback. And with the addition of Thomas Graham Jr., the Bears bring an intriguing option who should make for quite a competition.
THE PICK (ROUND 6, PICK 228)
• Name: Thomas Graham Jr. (21)
• College: Oregon
• Position: Cornerback
• Measurements: 5-10, 192 pounds, 31-inch arms, 8 7/8-inch hands
STATS TO KNOW
• 2020 stats: Did not play
• Career stats: 40 games, 183 total tackles (143 solo), 10.5 tackles-for-loss, 1. sack, 8 interceptions, 1 defensive touchdown
• Accomplishments: Senior Bowl (2021), Second-team PFF All-Pac-12 (2019), Second-team AP All-Pac-12 (2018)
• Position ranking: 31st (ESPN), 12th (Pro Football Focus), 17th (The Draft Network), 24th (Pro Football Network)
THREE STRENGTHS (FROM NFL.COM’s DRAFT PROFILE)
• “Impressive ball production as three-year starter.” … What stands out most in Graham’s profile is that he was a three-year starter and Oregon. That’s impressive, especially when you consider he was starting as a true freshman in the Pac-12. Teams don’t often hand true freshmen starting gigs off the bat. Doing so says a lot about Graham and what coaches thought of his talent and upside..
• “Plays with physical nature.” … Before the start of Day 2, I found myself trying to figure out what type of DB prospects the Bears could target. Prior drafts suggested Chicago’s tendency to prioritize players with ball skills and physicality. From a cornerback perspective, think Jaylon Johnson. So it makes sense seeing that Graham checks this box.
• “Runs into the frame in run support. … Willing to submarine pulling linemen to set an edge.” … Vic Fangio’s defenses asked his cornerbacks (particularly, nickel defenders) to get dirty in the run game. Think back to how aggressive Cre’Von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan were in the slot. That Graham can do this gives him an advantage.
THREE WEAKNESSES (FROM NFL.COM’S DRAFT PROFILE)
• “Backpedal is upright and clunky.” … This feels like something Chicago’s secondary coaches can work on from a technique perspective. Hopefully.
• “Recovery speed isn’t up to NFL standards.” … They say you can’t teach speed, but there are speed-training camps. So … maybe gee the youngster some speed training? I dunno. I’m just throwing out ideas and trying to be helpful.
• “Gets hips opened prematurely by receivers. … Tight hips are sticky in transitions.” … As Colombian songstress Shakira once eloquently put it: “Hips don’t lie.” And they’re so important in secondary play. Hopefully, this is something he can work on and improve from a technique perspective as he grows in the league.
NFL.COM COMPARISON: N/A
WHERE GRAHAM FITS
Graham is my ideal Day 3 pick. He was a highly touted high school player who was a four-star recruit and top-150 prospect in the country. Then, he arrives on campus at Oregon and starts as a true freshman — and then for the next two years that follow. The combination of prospect pedigree, starting experience at a power-conference university, and untapped potential piques my interest. So, with that being said, I unabashedly love this pick.
As for where Graham fits moving forward, there is an assumption he slides into the competition at slot corner. That’s where he’ll square off with Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley to take Buster Skrine’s spot. But I wonder if Graham has enough oomph! in his game to handle outside corner duties. In a traditional offseason, it’s something I’d want to keep eyes on at training camp.
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) January 27, 2021
Now, that is the kind of thing that coaches and talent evaluators take note of when it happens.