Nothing is set in stone. But for now, the battle for 2021 CB1 in the NFL Draft appears to be a race between three players: Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn, and Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley. The difference between Farley and the others? Farley didn’t play any football in 2020. Even after opting out of the 2020 season due to health concerns, Farley remains a bonafide first-round prospect and a legitimate contender for CB1. He maintains this reputation by virtue of a rare athletic profile, which could be the kryptonite for modern offensive innovation.
Caleb Farley NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 207 pounds
School: Virginia Tech
Current Year: Redshirt Junior
Interestingly enough, when you listen to Caleb Farley, he doesn’t think his physical attributes separate him from the pack. Farley instead believes his mental game is what makes him different. Farley describes himself as a professional and a perfectionist when working on his craft. Looking at the journey he’s taken thus far, it’s hard to disagree with him. His path has been defined not only by adversity but by resilience and perseverance through that adversity.
Farley’s journey from quarterback to cornerback
Farley’s resilience spans back to his days in high school. At Maiden High in North Carolina, Farley wasn’t a cornerback. He played on the defensive side of the ball occasionally, but he was a quarterback first. He passed for 4,511 yards and 50 touchdowns in his career and ran for 5,529 yards and 71 touchdowns. Farley put up massive totals on the ground in his senior season, accumulating 178 carries, 2,448 yards, and 35 touchdowns in just 11 games.
Farley had aspirations to be a dual-threat quarterback, but his passing ability attracted little interest. However, the Virginia Tech Hokies saw potential in Farley’s athletic ability, and they approached him to convert him to wide receiver. Farley committed to Virginia Tech in April of 2016 and enrolled early in 2017.
Caleb Farley’s career with the Virginia Tech Hokies
Farley’s transition to the college football stage was marred by adversity. Farley lost his mother to breast cancer in the span of that one year and missed his true freshman campaign with a severe knee injury, tearing his ACL before the season. It took a lot of will power not just to come back the next year but to come back strong. Not only did Farley do that, but he also underwent another position change, this time flipping to the other side of the ball, to play at cornerback.
Farley lined up at cornerback in 2018 and immediately made an impact as a redshirt freshman. The consistency wasn’t quite there yet, but Farley made plays on the ball even while learning the position. He put up two interceptions and seven pass deflections, and his triumphant return to the football field would be a springboard for an even better 2019 campaign.
Caleb Farley’s breakout 2019 season
In 2019, Farley dominated. The Virginia Tech cornerback allowed a completion on less than 50% of targets that came his way, and he was tireless in his disruption at the catch point, logging four interceptions and 12 pass deflections in just ten games.
The conference named Farley a first-team All-ACC honoree. A back injury prevented Farley from playing in December, but by that point, the mission was complete. Farley was officially a premier talent on the college football stage, and scouts circled him with Sharpie ahead of the 2020 season.
Farley initially intended to return for his redshirt junior season, but the worldwide extenuating circumstances changed things. The Virginia Tech cornerback already lost one parent to health concerns, and that weighed heavily on his decision to instead opt out. Farley made the decision to opt out with health in mind, but it turned out to be a solid strategic decision as well.
Farley left college football on a high note with his 2019 season, and he didn’t need to do anything else to prove he could play.
What makes Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley a first-round 2021 NFL Draft prospect?
Normally, the ideal height for cornerbacks is between 5-foot-10 and 6-foot-1. Cornerbacks below 5-foot-10 can be faster, but they often have length and size deficiencies that impact their ability to make plays on the ball and exert their physicality. Cornerbacks above 6-foot-1, meanwhile, are often less mobile. Against the elite athletes of the modern NFL, this isn’t ideal.
With that being said, Caleb Farley breaks the mold at cornerback. Farley stands at 6-foot-2, and he plays like he’s 6-foot-2, but he moves like he’s three inches smaller.
Farley has great explosiveness off the line, and he has awe-inspiring speed for his size. While other cornerbacks lack the pace to keep up with receivers, Farley’s closing speed is borderline elite. That closing speed not only allows him to hawk on in-breaking routes, but it also allows him to recover downfield, where he can use his tracking ability to disrupt the pass.
Appreciating any possible downfalls of Farley’s game
Farley is a little stiff with his hips at times, but he still offers more than enough fluidity and lateral freedom to mirror receivers in man coverage. He also has good positioning awareness. This helps him in zone coverage as well. He can use his closing speed and processing ability to clamp down on routes in his proximity, and when at the catch point, he has the length and precise hand coordination to interrupt the catch process.
Farley can work on turning his head more often in downfield situations, but he’s a prospect with few flaws overall. Farley’s injury history is notable: he tore his ACL in 2017 and needed surgery for his back injury late in 2019. But Farley was able to return from his ACL injury and displayed no notable losses of athleticism. Thus, he avoids the red flag on his record.
Caleb Farley’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Caleb Farley checks almost all the boxes at cornerback. He’s athletic, he’s long, he’s physical, and he’s proactive as a playmaker. Some cornerbacks wait for the play to come to them, and that passive coverage can get them beat. Farley, however, stays keyed in on the catch point, and every time the ball comes his way, he plays the ball and tracks it with feverish focus.
Mock drafts predictably have Farley as a lock to go Round 1. The question is where he’ll end up. His lack of playing tape in 2020 could elicit uncertainty, but in contrast, his NFL Combine performance could vault him back up to the top of the group. Farley’s athletic testing numbers should match the explosiveness and range he shows on film. His physical profile might best emulate the CB1 mold.
Subsequently, teams looking for a boundary starter in the 2021 NFL Draft should be interested in acquiring Farley’s talents. Teams like the Cowboys, Panthers, Falcons, Eagles, and Giants all have needs on the boundary and pick within Farley’s range. But if Farley drops a bit, as Tony Pauline predicts, teams like Washington, the 49ers, and the Patriots could also be good fits.
Farley’s appeal derives from his potentially dominant skill set at cornerback. That’s something every team wants on their roster.