5. Thomas Graham, Jr., CB
Thomas Graham, Jr. took a circuitous route to the Browns. First, he had the misfortune of playing in the PAC-12 during the Covid panic. The PAC-12, as you may recall, was shut down longer during the epidemic, partly due to higher population densities near PAC-12 schools, and partly due to plain old politics.
In any case, Graham elected to sit out for the season and declared for the NFL draft. That might not have been the best decision, with 20-20 hindsight, but at the time it was not clear whether the PAC-12 season was going to get off the ground.
In any case, Graham was good enough to be drafted in the sixth round by the Chicago Bears based on what they had seen from 2019 and had an up-and-down rookie campaign in 2021. He had decent pre-draft numbers — most notably, a 4.49-second 40-yard dash and 4.19 3-cone drill at his Pro Day.
Still, he didn’t make the Opening Day 53-man roster. He was waived and then signed to the Practice Squad. Later in the season, he was activated (what was wrong with the rest of the NFL in not taking a flier on a sixth-round draft pick from a Power Five school?).
He got into four games late in the season when he played well. In those four games, which included one start, he totaled 113 snaps and had 13 tackles. Granted, late-season football is played versus other teams with thin rosters, so he may not have seen the toughest competition. Nevertheless, Pro Football Focus graded him as elite in limited reps.
If he were to have maintained that for a full season, he would have been top 10 at his position. Of course, let’s not go crazy here. This is like in baseball, when some kid comes up to the majors in September and bats .400. We don’t believe he is really a .400 hitter. Nevertheless, we think he can possibly play some ball.
Unfortunately, two things derailed his 2022 season. First, the Bears drafted a cornerback in the first round. Second, Graham came up with a pulled hamstring in summer camp. So, the Bears waived him and signed him to the practice squad.
Cleveland pilfered him a few weeks later and kept him on the roster, then cut him and signed him to their own practice squad for a few weeks before promoting him back to the 53-player roster for good. He had very few reps for the Browns on defense, 37 to be precise, with another 55 reps on special teams, but once again played well in those reps.
PFF didn’t give him an all-universe grade as they did in 2021, but they did grade him higher than Greg Newsome, Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, and A.J. Green. Maybe he wasn’t a .400 batter, but he was around .300.
Cleveland’s defensive backs all looked terrible in 2022. Partly that is because the opposing quarterbacks all had time to throw. Just run away from Myles Garrett, and the other three defensive linemen behaved like perfect gentlemen. That’s fine if you’re running a restaurant, but not so good if you’re trying to play defense in the NFL.
Graham will be in his third year in 2023 and knows how to play cornerback in the NFL now. It will be interesting to see how he contributes in the Jim Schwartz system.