After spending their first five draft picks on offense, the Bears addressed their defense with the final selection of the sixth round Saturday, choosing Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. at No. 228.
Graham opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19. Prior to that, he appeared in 40 games over three seasons for the Ducks, registering 183 tackles, eight interceptions, 10.5 tackles-for-loss and 32 pass breakups.
The 5-10, 195-pounder was known for his play-making ability and ball skills at Oregon. Before opting out, he would have entered his senior season as the FBS leader in pass breakups and was tied for seventh among active FBS players in interceptions.
Speaking to Chicago reporters on a Zoom call, Graham credited his success with the extensive preparation he did week after week.
"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. "Just understanding the concepts that this team runs, what they like to do, then you know how they can attack you. I think me being able to do that strengthened a lot of my weaknesses."
Graham missed that preparation, as well as practicing and playing with his teammates, after opting out of the season. But he doesn't regret the decision.
"Not playing last year, I'd say the major challenge was watching your boys out there on the field," Graham said. "The majority of them that started were two and three-year starters, so I had been playing with them for the last 3-4 years. It kind of just sucks not being able to be out there for my last year with them. But the decision was more based on what was best for me in my situation, and it paid off. I'm a Bear now. That's a good thing."
While sitting out the season, Graham worked on improving his speed and prepared to showcase his ability in the Senior Bowl.
"I wanted to make sure I went into my pro day and showed everyone that my linear speed was better than it was," he said. "I ran a 4.45 and I was happy with that. And then just kind of showing people that I've still got it when it came to playing on the field, and I felt like I did that at the Senior Bowl."
Missing an entire season did require a bit of an adjustment for Graham.
"When 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 training with it for that month when I went to the Senior Bowl."
Graham already knows one Bears player: fellow cornerback Jaylon Johnson, a 2020 second-round pick who led the defense with 15 pass breakups as a rookie. Graham told reporters that his mother's family hails from the same area in Fresno, Calif., as Johnson, and the two participated in the same 7-on-7 passing camps as high school seniors in California.
"When we played Utah, we talked to each other after," Graham said. "I told him congrats. I retweet all his stuff. If you go back on my Twitter you can see when he made a play, I retweeted or quoted something about him. I wouldn't say we're the closest, but it's like we have a mutual respect for each other's game."
Graham is excited about becoming teammates with Johnson in Chicago.
"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," Graham said.
"When you step on that field, when you know you're 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. How's he going to feel if I don't make that play? But if we're all locking it down, then now Khalil Mack or somebody else comes off that edge and gets that sack and we're all celebrating."