The last few draft classes have spoiled us in terms of cornerback prospects, seeing the likes of Jalen Ramsey, Marshon Lattimore, Denzel Ward, and Jeff Okudah become the first corner off the board at a high pick. All of those players were deemed the clear-cut top corner, and were argued by some to be the best defensive talent in their entire class.
That kind of player doesn’t seem to exist in this year’s crop of talent, but the top two corners seem to be Caleb Farley and Patrick Surtain II, with many experts deferring to Farley.
Name: Caleb Farley
Weight: 207 lbs
2019 Stats: 10 games, 20 tackles, 4 interceptions, 12 passes defensed
Coming from Virginia Tech, Farley enters this draft with a ton of potential but a few question marks as well. Farley played quarterback in high school and was recruited to Virginia Tech to play wide receiver. An injury wiped out his freshman year, and then he moved to cornerback.
The 2018 season was not only his first year playing college football, but his first time playing the corner position at all. He played in all 13 games and recorded 36 tackles, a sack, two picks, and knocked down seven passes. He missed the final two games of the 2019 season with an undisclosed injury that was rumored to stem from a pinched nerve in his back. Farley decided to return for the next year, but ended up opting out due to COVID-19, and is now entering the draft. So now NFL scouts will have to evaluate this player based on 23 total games playing cornerback, none of which came in the last year, and project his value in the NFL. That’s tough, but here’s what we know.
Man Coverage: One thing that sticks out about Farley is his sheer size and length. At 6’ 2”, Farley has the kind of height that is essential to the kind of defense Dan Quinn prefers to run, and his long arms make it easier for Farley to blanket his receiver. This comes up big in man coverage as Farley understands how to leverage his frame between the receiver and the ball even if he doesn’t always have great positioning. It’s also allowed him to be more physical at the line when asked to be, and Farley’s combination of size and athleticism makes him a good candidate for press coverage.
Zone Coverage: Farley is very clearly a better man cover corner than he is a zone cover guy. That’s not to say he’s bad in zone, but it’s this struggle that keeps him from being that aforementioned top prospect in this class. Too many times, Farley doesn’t seem to know when to adjust his spot based on the routes being run. He often gets bailed out by his size, which enables Farley to take up more space and clog passing lanes, but that won’t be sustainable at the next level with some of the quarterbacks he’ll be facing. He has all the traits to become just as dangerous in zone as he is in man, and perhaps he’s already improved in the year since he last played organized football, but Farley’s 2019 tape doesn’t reflect that yet.
Playmaking Ability: Much like the Cowboys’ own Trevon Diggs, another receiver-turned-corner, Farley looks like a receiver when the ball is in the air. He does a good job of locating the ball, tracking it, and timing his jump to get his hands on the ball. Farley’s long arms and soft hands also help ensure that when he does get his hands on the ball, it’s usually turning into a pick. He had six interceptions in his 23 games at Virginia Tech, and it was his three picks in the first month of the 2019 season that led opposing quarterbacks to start avoiding him on the field.
Athleticism: Usually bigger corners aren’t this athletic, and that’s a big reason why Farley is getting so much love. It’s easy to see his wide receiver traits in his game, as Farley’s feet are quick and precise. His hips are incredibly loose, and there are times in man coverage when Farley appears to be running routes better than the guy he’s covering. Farley reaches top speed pretty fast too, enabling him to go up against more speedy receivers and hold his own.
Run Support: Run support is a tough thing to judge cornerbacks on. Theoretically, it shouldn’t matter that much because the front seven should be handling the run more often than not; instead, having great run support skills as a corner should be something that puts a prospect over the top. And in that respect, Farley is not being put over the top. He’s not a bad tackler, per se, but Farley is also not someone you want to be relying on in the open field. He makes business decisions on a consistent basis as well, seemingly uninterested in coming up in run support. It’s disappointing because he has the frame to be a very effective run stopper out of the secondary, but it hasn’t manifested.
Processing: The cornerback position is arguably the toughest position to play on defense because of how much processing it involves both before and after the snap, so you’d expect Farley to struggle mightily here after only becoming a corner in his sophomore year. That’s not the case. Farley shows a good understanding of route progressions, especially in man coverage, and is generally able to just go out and play without having to do too much conscious thinking. He becomes a little more pensive in zone coverage, as mentioned above, but the bottom line is Farley does not look like a guy that has only played 23 games at corner in his entire life.
Toughness: As mentioned with regards to run support, Farley can often look soft or disinterested when he’s asked to come up and deliver a hit or make an open-field tackle. But the strange thing is he’s the exact opposite in coverage, where Farley plays with an attitude to his game. He’s physical when asked to be, sticky when the play calls for it, and he goes up in the air like it’s his ball and no one else’s. It’s a real Jekyll/Hyde scenario, and it can be frustrating at times.
Intangibles: The biggest question for Farley is if he’s ready to be an NFL cornerback. It’s a notoriously tough position to adapt to at the next level, and Farley barely got any experience at the collegiate level, and he hasn’t played in a game since before Thanksgiving of 2019. Additionally, with just two seasons of actual play under his belt, it’s hard to get a sense of whether Farley was a vocal leader in the locker room and what he can grow into in the NFL. Furthermore, fair or not, there is going to be some second-guessing about any prospect who opted out of this past season, depending on how teams view that. Farley is undoubtedly a talented prospect, but there are plenty of uncertainties in his game that will be hard to answer before the draft.