The Chicago Bears were one of the biggest winners of the 2021 NFL draft, with most analysts grading them at best A+ and at worst B+ for what was arguably Ryan Pace’s most impressive draft haul in his seven-year tenure.
Although we’ll certainly have to wait to see how things pan out over the next few years before that’s confirmed. But, at first glance, Pace had a sensational draft, which started with trading up to draft quarterback Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick.
ESPN compiled a list of 10 of the most underrated Day 3 prospects that were steals — and not one, but two Bears made the list in sixth-round selections running back Khalil Herbert and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr.
Herbert adds some valuable depth at the running back position behind David Montgomery, where he has a chance to earn reps as Montgomery’s backup. But he’ll have to compete with veteran Damien Williams, who signed a one-year deal this offseason.
But Herbert has a good chance of making the roster due to his value on special teams, where he has experience returning kicks.
Herbert’s 2020 breakout was no fluke. We got a glimpse of that guy in 2019, when he averaged 9.2 yards per carry and broke 18 tackles on 42 attempts before leaving Kansas at midseason. After transferring to Virginia Tech, Herbert lit it up with 1,172 yards on only 155 carries and averaged 4.7 yards per carry after contact.
Herbert has legit home run speed and even had a kick return score called back this past season. At 5-foot-9 and 212 pounds, he has the ideal body type to contribute on any down when called upon.
Graham provides versatility at the cornerback position, where he can play outside or inside. With uncertainty at the cornerback position following Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrines’ releases, there are two jobs up for grabs at outside corner and slot corner that Graham can certainly compete for.
Graham was lights out in coverage over his final two seasons, earning a PFF coverage grade of 79.8 in 2018 and 82.9 in 2019. (He opted out in 2020.) He ranked in the top 10 among FBS cornerbacks in both passing stops (23) and plays made on the ball (29) in those two years combined. The 5-foot-10, 192-pounder is a patient corner with balanced and nimble feet who also attacks the catch point incredibly well. And his flat-footed breaks are superb.
We saw Graham as a third-round prospect, but the Bears — who were already in the running for having the best draft of all 32 franchises — swooped in and got him with the final pick of the sixth round. He should be a fantastic fit in a Chicago defense that will be bursting with Fangio’s influence under new defensive coordinator Sean Desai.
Both Herbert and Graham were graded in higher rounds than the sixth, where they were both selected. And given GM Ryan Pace’s penchant for discovering late-round gems in the draft, they could both wind up developing into contributors down the road.