Chicago Bears: CB Thomas Graham Jr. a bright spot in week 15

thomas graham jr., bears

CHICAGO, IL–As the Chicago Bears navigate a COVID-19 outbreak at Halas Hall, week 15 provided the Bears with an opportunity to allow some younger talent to see significant playing time in what has become another lost season for the Bears. One name that jumped off the screen on Monday night was cornerback Thomas Graham Jr., a sixth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

In Graham Jr’s. first official start, the rookie managed to total seven tackles and three pass breakups, proving as to why Chicago should’ve never stashed him away on the practice squad to begin the 2021 season. The Bears’ lone bright spot at CB this season has been second-year starter, Jaylon Johnson and as the search continues for a true CB2, Graham Jr. could provide a solution.

Versatility is often a big asset when talking about defensive backs in today’s NFL. Luckily for Graham Jr., the Bears moved him around from inside to outside multiple times throughout the evening. During the second quarter, Graham Jr. made his presence felt by breaking up a pass in a third-and-seven situation at the Minnesota 15-yard line, forcing the Vikings to mount. The very next drive, the Bears’ offense would march down the field and score three points. When Graham Jr. was asked to cover star Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, he excelled, even forcing Minnesota into a 3rd-and-18 situation after breaking up a pass in the third quarter.

“I think we all saw that he performed well today,” said defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. “I’m happy for him, to get that opportunity, look to see what’s next for him.”

One game is just a sample size from Graham but the potential that was on display throughout the afternoon is encouraging for a team that’s already looking forward to 2022. With the Bears having lots of needs to address during the upcoming offseason, having a quality CB2 on a rookie contract with a high ceiling bodes well for a team that will need to revamp the roster over the next few years.

31 questions for Chicago Bears camp: Is CB the biggest question on the roster?

With the calendar officially turned to July, we are just weeks away from the start of Chicago Bears training camp, which means that the 2021 regular season is approaching faster than ever. Cornerback was a positional group that underwent significant changes this offseason with  veterans Buster Skrine and Kyle Fuller being released.

The release of Skrine was justified but releasing Fuller led to questions about priorities on the Bears defense, despite Fuller’s cap hit of nearly $20M for the upcoming season. In a pass-happy league, the Bears opted to release a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, now leading to questions about the state of the position heading into 2021.

Outside of 2020 second-round pick Jaylon Johnson, Chicago does have some veterans in Artie Burns and Desmond Trufant. Add in rookie Thomas Graham Jr., and second-year CB Kindle Vildor with 2019 sixth-round pick Duke Shelley and Chicago has a number of options at the position.

Trufant and Burns are the most experienced players in the Bears CB room, with both being first-round picks in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Johnson was a second-round pick in 2020, with Graham Jr., Vildor, and Shelley being day three picks.

Bears CB’s will have a fair share of star wide receiver’s to face in 2021. An already tough schedule is even tougher when tasked with facing individual talents like DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry. Add in having to face the defending Super Bowl champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it’s clear the Bears will need to rely on veteran safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson to cover up an unproven CB group.

Versatility is a quality that exists within Chicago’s CB group. Vildor, Shelley, and Burns can play on either the inside or the outside, giving the Bears multiple options when evaluating the position throughout training camp.

“We’re excited about developing some of these guys right now,” said defensive coordinator Sean Desai on the Bears official Youtube page. “We like the volume and depth we got there. We got to play football.”

As Chicago prepares for training camp, what happens at CB should be of immense interest. If someone such as Vildor or Graham Jr. emerge, it’s fair to cross off CB from the list of needs Chicago will have to address next offseason.

New York Giants: Cornerback prospects to target in the later rounds

The New York Giants are gearing up for the 2021 NFL Draft after a successful free agency period. The Giants made a few splash signings in free agency. One key signing that the Giants made was that of Adoree’ Jackson, a talented cornerback that could help make the Giants’ defense one of the top units in the NFL this season.

But the Jackson signing was a case where the Giants took a chance on a talented player with the potential for excellence, but the same amount of risk that brings the potential for disaster. Adoree’ has dealt with significant injuries over the past couple of years. But now he is healthy and the Giants are confident he can remain healthy and return to form.

Regardless, the Giants should look to add more depth to their secondary. It never hurts to have extra defensive backs on the roster. Cornerbacks and safeties are injured pretty frequently and New York knows all too well the struggles that can come from starting backup cornerbacks on Sundays. To prepare for that scenario, the Giants should target some solid cornerback prospects in the later rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Cornerback prospects to target in the later rounds

Tay Gowan

The Giants love tall, physical cornerbacks with the speed and length to matchup on the outside. Tay Gowan out of UCF fits that bill perfectly. At his Pro Day, Gowan was listed just under 6 feet 1 inch, 186 pounds, and flew in the 40-yard dash at 4.41 seconds.

Gowan’s speed and athleticism are noticeable on tape. However, there is not much tape to watch. This is why Gowan could be overlooked and fall to the later rounds of the draft. Tay Gowan opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to COVID-19 concerns. But in 2019, he was phenomenal. Tay has allowed the second-lowest passer rating allowed in single coverage since 2019 with a rating of 26.6 (PFF).

We had the opportunity to speak to Tay Gowan on Fireside Giants. Check out that exclusive interview here.

Thomas Graham Jr.

The Giants love drafting Senior Bowl standouts. Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. stood out as one of the best prospects at the Senior Bowl this year. Graham is a day two or three cornerback prospect for the Giants to target this month.

Graham Jr. is another prospect that opted out of the 2020 season. Mike Renner of PFF mentioned how many of the opt-out players at the Senior Bowl looked rusty. But according to Mike and every other talent evaluator in Mobile during the Senior Bowl, Thomas Graham Jr. was not one of those players. Graham did not look rusty at all.

Thomas Graham Jr. locked down all the top wide receiver prospects at the Senior Bowl. In his career at Oregon, Graham racked up 183 tackles, 40 Passes Defended, 8 Ints, and 10.5 TFL. He was an exceptional talent on Oregon’s defense.

Benjamin St-Juste

Benjamin St-Juste is another big-bodied outside cornerback that would make a nice addition to the Giants’ defense in the middle rounds. St-Juste is freakishly built for a cornerback, 6-foot-3, 205 pounds with an insane 80 1/4 wingspan.

This lengthy cornerback out of Minnesota has all the physical tools to be an elite press-man cornerback in the NFL. He has the size, length, and strength to succeed as a boundary cornerback. He is not an elite athlete, but he is a technical cornerback that the Giants could develop into a capable player outside.

Benjamin St-Juste is another player that stood out at the Senior Bowl. His 2019 season was an impressive campaign that saw Benjamin break up 10 passes and total 45 tackles. St-Juste is a physical cornerback and a textbook tackler. If he is available for the Giants in the later rounds, Benjamin St-Juste seems like a player that could fit nicely into Patrick Graham’s defensive scheme.