How does DB Thomas Graham Jr. fit with Bears?


by - Senior Writer -
Graham will compete for a roster spot (Mark Rebilas - USA Today Sports)
Graham will compete for a roster spot (Mark Rebilas - USA Today Sports)

After going offense for their first two sixth-round picks, the Bears finally turned to defense and used pick 228 for their lone defensive pick in the draft. For the most part, that side of the football is taken care of, although some depth pieces need to be added.

One of those areas of need for depth is in the secondary, which the Bears addressed with this pick in taking Oregon CB Thomas Graham Jr. Prior to the 2020 season, Graham Jr was one of the best cornerbacks in the country, and the stats don't lie. He then opted to sit out the 2020 season, and some are wondering if his draft stock took a hit because of it.

Even with the opt-out, Pro Football Focus had him ranked the 76th best prospect overall, and yet somehow, the Bears got him at 228. Essentially, they selected a third-round talent in the sixth round and received yet another A grade for this pick.

Losing both Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine this offseason will be difficult for this team to replace, so finding CB help in the draft was somewhat of a focus.

Adding a guy like Desmond Trufant to replace Fuller was a great short-term solution, but he is not the CB of the future for this team. On the other hand, Graham certainly has a ton of upside and has the potential to see plenty of game action, even if it is a couple of years down the road.

At 5-10 and 192 pounds, Graham Jr is a little bit undersized, but that shouldn't stop him from being one of the final players selected to the week one roster. The once four-star recruit was immediately inserted into the Ducks lineup, starting 12 of 13 games as a freshman and coming away with 62 tackles, four breakups, and three interceptions.

As a sophomore, those numbers got better as he started every game and continued to produce at a high level. He tied for the FBS lead in pass breakups with 18, made 56 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss, intercepted three more passes, with one being returned for a touchdown. His junior season saw the same results as Graham Jr finished with a career-high 64 tackles, five for a loss to go with 10 breakups and two interceptions. Graham Jr then opted out of his senior season, but his three years at Oregon were very productive.

Despite being shorter than many corners, Graham Jr has a decent build on his body and plays with more strength than teams expect out of him. However, he struggles to transition through route breaks and doesn't have the recovery speed you would like to see. Nevertheless, Graham Jr is an ideal fit to play zone corner where his above-average instincts and tackling skills will be a massive plus for the Bears.

To go along with that, Graham Jr is a three-year starter who is not only experienced but delivered tons of production in each of those three seasons. He is physical and plays with the physicality you like to see out of a corner. Graham Jr is also not afraid to throw his body around and make the open field tackle which lacked in the Bears secondary last season.

Some of the things Graham Jr needs to work on are primarily his coverage form, where he is clunky when backpedaling and is early in route release. He also sometimes gives away early separation, and once he does that, he doesn't have the speed to close those receivers out, allowing for big plays. Not only does he not have the NFL closing speed, but his overall athleticism is just OK.

He tends to play higher than you like to see out of the corner and often looks like he is playing on skates when covering great route running WR's. In terms of a value pick, Graham Jr is a home run to get this far down in the board, especially when you look where he was graded. His production at the college level shows he has starter potential even if there are plenty of things he needs to work on.

Graham Jr is going to compete for a roster spot until the final day of camp.

Whether that be on special teams or a few spots down on the CB depth chart, Graham Jr will make plays for this team and is an excellent addition for Sean Desai and the defensive unit.

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