Thomas Graham Jr. Tries to Prove People Wrong

Bears sixth-round pick Thomas Graham Jr. says he has forever had to prove people wrong about his playing ability so a drop in the draft to Round 6 is simply a chance to do it again.
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The dangers of not opting out in football were obvious from the start of COVID-19.

The danger of opting out might be what happened to Bears sixth-round draft pick Thomas Graham Jr. 

It's difficult to gauge, but it's also difficult to say why else a player with skills so universally liked by scouts and analysts would drop to where the Bears could take him with the 228th pick, the last man to go in the sixth round.

The first Bears defensive selection of the draft was a player Pro Football Focus rated 76th overall on its big board. 

Obviously good natured — Graham even said he likes talking to the media — he managed to smile his way through the fall to the bottom of Round 6.

"I'm a Bear now," Graham said. "That's a good thing."

Before coming a Bear, he was watching the draft and wondering if he made the right decision to opt out.

"Towards the end before I actually got that call from the Bears I somewhat questioned it a little bit just because before the season people were saying I'll be off the board by third or fourth round," he said.

Then again the other way to look at it is the Bears couldn't have had a much different opinion of where Graham belonged in the draft than others, because they didn't take him until No. 228 and had chances in Round 5, then in Round 6 at 217 and 221.

Graham had made eight interceptions and 32 pass defenses in his first three Oregon seasons while playing in a strong secondary. Then he opted out.

"It kind of just sucks not being able to be out there for my last year with them, but like kinda with the decision, it was more based on what was best for me in my situation," he said.

Graham put the time away to good use. 

"Just focus on all the critiques, I listened and learned from everybody and what they had to say about my game and I just tried to see what I agreed on, and what I did do with some things I felt like, Oh, I already have that part of my game," Graham said. "I still need to work on it to keep it strong and keep it a strength. 

"But it was just certain things I needed to do with my weakness. One thing was my linear speed. I wanted to make sure I went into pro day and showed everyone that my linear speed was better than it was. I ran a 4.45 and I was happy with that. And then just kind of showing people that I still got it when it came to playing on the field. And I felt like I did that at the Senior Bowl."

The Senior Bowl presented his first chance to practice or play since the 2019 season.

"So that first day I put the helmet on like a month before the Senior Bowl I was like, 'Wow,' " he said. "I forgot how it feels to actually go out there and train with a helmet on. It was totally different. I just had to get used to it training with it for that month when I went to the Senior Bowl. 

"No matter what I did for training I was never going to be used to that humidity in Alabama. After day one it was kind of easy, make sure to hydrate before, but I knew mentally, physically I was ready. I just had to go out there and perform."

One of the scouting criticisms of Graham was possible overaggressive play against receivers and he found the NFL officials at the Senior Bowl were watching for this, so he adjusted. His game has always been about adjusting to challenges. He has been a student of the game, much like former Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, and said it helped him make these adjustments.

"My preparation, I prepare as soon as the next game ends and that's because I think the position I play is made for you to get beat," Graham said. 

Graham made this decision after learning the hard way.

"Started off with me being beat deep too much, to then 'Oh he doesn't press as well,' then they keep trying to add something new I try, and do whatever I can to make that my strength," he said. "I feel like I ended up my last season, I only gave up two passes past 25 yards. So it's like that deep ball is gone. 'Oh he gives up too many catches.' I think it was like 40% (completions) to my side throwing the ball. So it's just like I've done things to keep showing that whatever you say, I'm going to keep proving you wrong. And it was kind of nice that my whole life, I was always the one that was overlooked or they might have said he was good, but everybody else felt a different way, just like I love to prove people wrong."

Graham will see one familiar face from his formative years when he practices. Jaylon Johnson was an acquaintance from back in high school.

"Actually the craziest part is that my mom’s side of the family is from the same area, Fresno, that he is," Graham said. "So back, history there, 7-on-7 and camps when we were seniors in high school We used to go at it after every game whenever I played. 

"When we played (against) Utah, we talked to each other after, I told him congrats, I retweet all his stuff. If you go back on my Twitter you can see when he made a big play I had retweeted or quoted something about him, I think it was early in the year or something like that. Our friendship and stuff like that I wouldn’t say we’re the closest, but it’s like we have a mutual respect for each others' game between each other."

The benefit?

"I think it’s going to be good because being a corner, being a nickel, being a safety, being a DB, having people in your secondary that you can trust makes everything so much better when you step on that field, when you know you on that field, like I know that right now if Jaylon's locking down his man, if I give any type of ground, the ball's going to my man," he said. "But if we all (are) locking it down then now Khalil Mack, somebody else, comes off that edge and gets that sack and we are all celebrating."

It's the kind of thought to make his slide down the draft board and opting out worthwhile.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven