NFC North Rumors: Gafford, Graham, Bears, Jenkins

Packers’ offseason acquisition Rico Gafford has been asked to move from wide receiver back to his original position of cornerback, according to Matt Schneidman who did an early projection of how the Packers’ 53-man roster could play out for The Athletic this week. Gafford is a speedy player whose versatility led the Raiders to use him as a Lamar Jackson stand in on scout team before playing the Ravens when he was in Las Vegas a couple of years ago.

Gafford was an undrafted cornerback out of Wyoming back in 2018. Over two years of play with the Cowboys, he recorded 6 interceptions, 11 passes defensed, and 3 forced fumbles at the collegiate level. After signing initially with the Titans, Gafford was cut before training camp and signed with the Raiders who asked him to change his primary position to wide receiver because of his speed. He played mostly special teams in Oakland but did catch two balls including a 49-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr in 2019.

Green Bay has a history of moving undrafted wide receivers to cornerback, most recently in 2016, when the Packers convinced University of Miami wide receiver Herb Waters to move to cornerback due to a couple of injuries in the position room. More famously, the Packers persuaded another former Hurricanes’ receiver, Sam Shields, to switch to cornerback after he went undrafted in 2010. Shields was named the third cornerback on the depth chart after the preseason, behind Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, and went on to start 62 of the 80 games he would play in a Packers’ uniform over a seven-year stay in Green Bay.

Here are a few more rumors out of the NFC North, all of these coming out of the Windy City:

  • After making his NFL debut late into the season last year, Bears cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. could have a shot at a starting spot in the slot over free agent addition Tavon Young in the upcoming season, according to Courtney Cronin of ESPN. A sixth-round pick in 2021, Graham struggled early to make the team, spending most of the season on the practice squad. In a late-December game against the Vikings, though, Graham heard his name called as the Bears’ roster was depleted by injuries and COVID-19. An impressive performance in that game made his promotion permanent as he spent the rest of the season on the active roster. The Bears used their highest draft pick this year to select Kyler Gordon in the second round to start opposite Jaylon Johnson on the outside. This will leave Graham to compete with the former Raven, Young, in the slot. Young, once the highest-paid nickel corner in the NFL, has suffered multiple torn ACLs and a neck injury that have forced him to miss the entire 2017 and 2019 seasons, as well as most of the 2020 season. Even if Graham can’t beat out Young to start, the Bears will be glad to have him as a strong back-up option.
  • The Bears announced some updates to their staff this week, according to Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic. The team has announced Reese Hicks as the new West Coast scout, Tom Bradway as the new Northeast scout, and Ryan Cavanaugh as the team’s new Midwest scout. In addition to those personnel positions, Chicago announced two moves in the analytics department. Krithi Chandrakasan will be the director of football analytics and Ryan Hubley will serve as the football systems developer.
  • With recent news that the Bears will look at 2022 fifth-round draft pick Braxton Jones at left tackle in camp, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reminded readers that when Teven Jenkins was drafted in the second round last year, many saw him as a guard at the NFL-level. If Jones does end up impressing on the blindside this summer, Jenkins could find himself filling the Bears’ hole at right guard.
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