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Trying to Win Steelers Nickel Back Job, Thomas Graham Studies Mike Hilton, Arthur Maulet Tape

Thomas Graham had a great spring and is now in a solid spot to win the nickel cornerback job on the Steelers defense.



Steelers Thomas Graham
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Thomas Graham at the team's OTAs, May 28, 2024 -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Thomas Graham to a reserve/future contract in January, his name was just another name on the roster. Now that the team is nearing training camp, Graham is one of the frontrunners for the starting Nickel cornerback job.

Of course, Cam Sutton will man that role when he is fully cleared by the NFL but with Sutton’s possible suspension looming, Graham may be the starting Nickel come the first week of the season and beyond. The first order of business from Graham when arriving in Pittsburgh was getting up to speed with the Steelers playbook.

“It’s all about learning a new scheme, coming into a new system and kind of being able show my ability,” Graham told Alan Saunders of Steelers Now. “Since I have been in the league, my best ability has really been whenever I get my chance, I make the most of it so I am trying to do that here. Just trying to earn the chance to be the starting Nickel [cornerback.]”

Graham is very motivated to win the starting job and is already leaning on the Nickel cornerbacks of Steelers past in order to help him prepare. Graham noted the work of former Steelers’ Mike Hilton and Arthur Maulet when talking about how he wants to play in Pittsburgh.

“I think my whole goal is trying to put all of the pieces together from all of them,” Graham said. “Like, him [Mike Hilton], Arthur [Maulet], and everybody that was from before, just being able to embody the ‘Steeler Nickel.’ Anybody around the league knows that if you are the Steelers’ Nickel [cornerback,] you have to be strong, willing to make those tackles, go in there and set edges.”

While Graham has experience inside of the slot, the one thing that is new for him is the opportunity to blitz. Hilton was very good at that during his time with the Steelers and whoever the starting Nickel back is, will need to be able to create chaos in the passing game.

“Being able to blitz,” Graham said. “Everywhere I have been, I never really got the opportunity to blitz so for them to at least have a couple in there, more than I had before, it is a great feeling to have.”

Graham is slotted to compete against Beanie Bishop and Josiah Scott for a roster spot. As mentioned before, they are not only competing for a roster spot but they are likely competing for serious, meaningful defensive snaps depending on what the league decides to do with Sutton.

While it appears that Graham has a decent chance of being the Steelers starting Nickel in Atlanta, nothing is guaranteed in the league and he will have to outperform Bishop and Scott in training camp and throughout the preseason to solidify his roster spot.

37 • Thomas Graham, Cornerback, Oregon
5-foot-10, 196 pounds, 25 years old, 4th Season

Acquired: The Steelers signed Thomas Graham to a reserve/future contract on January 23, 2024. Graham spent the better part of the last two seasons in Cleveland.

Last SeasonAfter appearing in a handful of games for the Browns in 2022, Graham did not play in a game in 2023. Graham was placed on the injured reserve in early August and then released from the team in November. Graham did not sign with another team in the 2023 season.

Pittsburgh Steelers CB Thomas Graham

Oregon Ducks cornerback Thomas Graham at the 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl.

Career: The Chicago Bears drafted Thomas Graham in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He was waived as a part of the team’s final roster cuts prior to the 2021 season. The Bears re-signed Graham to the practice squad the next day.

The Bears elevated Graham to their active roster after their secondary was depleted by injuries and COVID-19 and he made his NFL debut on December 20 against the Minnesota Vikings. After playing every snap on defense with seven tackles and three pass breakups, he was signed to the active roster the next day where he stayed through the end of the season.

In his rookie season, Graham played in four games and started one of them as he totaled 13 combined tackles and four pass breakups.

Graham started the 2022 season on the Bears practice squad before being signed to the Browns active roster. Graham played in seven games for the Browns in 2022. He totaled six tackles on the season.

In his three seasons in the NFL, Graham has 19 tackles and four pass deflections while playing in 11 games and starting in one.

Year Team GP GS Tackles INTs PBUs
2021 CHI 4 1 13 0 4
2022 CLE 7 0 6 0 0
2023 CLE 0 0 0 0 0

CollegeOriginally committed to USC, Thomas Graham de-committed and then chose Oregon as his home. Graham made an immediate impact for the Ducks. As a true freshman, Graham played in 13 games for the Ducks as he tallied 62 combined tackles, three interceptions and seven defended passes. He played 824 defensive snaps which were the most by an Oregon defensive back.

As a sophomore, Graham started in all 13 of the Ducks’ games. In total, Graham posted 56 tackles, three interceptions and 21 defended passes. Graham earned AP Second-Team All-Pac 12 honors following the season.

In his junior season, Graham started all 14 games and racked up 64 combined tackles, two interceptions, 12 defended passes and one forced fumble.

The Pac-12 conference decided to cancel their 2020 season due to COVID-19 and Graham decided to opt out of his senior season to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

Over his three seasons of playing time, Graham played in 40 games, starting 39 of them. He combined for 182 tackles, eight interceptions, one forced fumble and 40 passes defended.

2017 13 62 3 7 0
2018 13 56 3 21 0
2019 14 64 2 12 1
2020 0 0 0 0 0

Salary cap and future: Thomas Graham signed a reserve/future contract with the Steelers in January. Graham will cost $985,000 against the team’s cap space if he makes the final roster. With none of the contract being guaranteed, the Steelers could release Graham and not face any dead money penalties in 2024.

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