Not long ago, it took time for wide receivers to develop. In 2020, however, Minnesota Vikings rookie Justin Jefferson made the Pro Bowl after amassing 88 catches, 1,400 yards, and 7 touchdowns in 16 games. It was a development made on the offensive side of the ball, but it bore weight for the cornerbacks of the 2021 NFL Draft. In this new NFL age, receivers are entering the NFL more ready and more dynamic than ever before. By definition, the cornerbacks — those tasked with stopping the receivers — have to be ready as well.
Which cornerbacks were drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft?
Let’s take a look at the cornerbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Jaycee Horn, South Carolina | Round 1, Pick 8 | Carolina Panthers
When Caleb Farley fell out of the conversation due to medical concerns, the CB1 debate ultimately enclosed two players: Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.
Surtain carried a compelling case throughout the entire offseason with his exceptional size and athleticism, as well as his strong mental game. But on draft night, Horn was the first cornerback selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Horn offers elite athleticism and length, but his ball skills and fiery competitive edge might be what sets him apart. He can be a true alpha on defense.
Patrick Surtain II, Alabama | Round 1, Pick 9 | Denver Broncos
Time will tell if the Denver Broncos should have selected a quarterback. For now, the Broncos are giving Drew Lock a chance to take the next step in 2021. He’ll be elevated by a scary defensive unit led by a terrific secondary.
Patrick Surtain II only strengthens Denver’s back end. Even with Kyle Fuller and Ronald Darby on the boundaries, he should see playing time early. He’s an intelligent, smooth competitor at cornerback. He also has the high-end athleticism to blanket NFL-caliber wide receivers and make plays on the ball.
Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech | Round 1, Pick 22 | Tennessee Titans
There were whispers before the 2021 NFL Draft that Caleb Farley might fall out of Round 1. Before he opted out of the 2020 season and underwent back surgery in the offseason, he was considered a contender for CB1.
The uncertainty with his health clouded his outlook, but the Titans still felt comfortable enough to take him early. If Farley can stay on the field, he can legitimately challenge Horn and Surtain. He has a stellar combination of length and athleticism, and his ability to click and close is arguably the best in the class.
Greg Newsome II, Northwestern | Round 1, Pick 26 | Cleveland Browns
Interestingly enough, Greg Newsome II also has pressing injury concerns, much like Farley. Both rookies will be the subject of careful attention early on. Still, Newsome has the benefit of 2020 playing time on his side.
Although he only played in five games last season, he managed to produce an interception and 7 deflections in that short span, reaffirming his top-end talent. He was named a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a result. Few cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft have the combination of explosiveness, fluidity, and reaction quickness that Newsome owns, and he can use those traits to help the Browns contend.
Eric Stokes, Georgia | Round 1, Pick 29 | Green Bay Packers
For most of the offseason, Eric Stokes wasn’t viewed as one of the best cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Rather, he was seen as being in the tier immediately below — still a great prospect but needed additional seasoning. He’ll get that with the Packers, and he’ll also receive an opportunity to develop his skills.
If he can reach his ceiling, he’s another cornerback who has the athletic makeup to pace his position. He turned heads at Georgia’s Pro Day with a 4.31 40-yard dash at 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds. With searing speed and impressive flashes of physicality, especially in press-man, Stokes could be a CB1 in waiting.
Cornerbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Round 2
As strong as the 2021 NFL Draft cornerback class appears, only three cornerbacks were selected in Round 2. Tyson Campbell started the round off quickly, joining C.J. Henderson and free-agent acquisition Shaquill Griffin in Jacksonville.
Further down, the Cowboys brought late riser Kelvin Joseph into a situation where he’ll be able to showcase his talents early. Just three picks after, the Chargers boosted their secondary by bringing in second-generation ballhawk Asante Samuel Jr. All three of these players have the physical traits to contribute in Year 1.
Cornerbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Round 3
9) Aaron Robinson, UCF | R3-P71 | New York Giants
10) Benjamin St-Juste, Minnesota | R3-P74 | Washington Football Team
11) Paulson Adebo, Stanford | R3-P76 | New Orleans Saints
12) Nahshon Wright, Oregon State | R3-P99 | Dallas Cowboys
13) Elijah Molden, Washington | R3-P100 | Tennessee Titans
14) Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse | R3-P101 | Detroit Lions
15) Ambry Thomas, Michigan | R3-P102 | San Francisco 49ers
16) Brandon Stephens, SMU | R3-P104 | Baltimore Ravens
The NFL made up for the low turnout of cornerbacks in Round 2 quickly. In Round 3, eight cornerbacks went off the board. Many were expected to go in this range, including Aaron Robinson, Paulson Adebo, and Elijah Molden. Yet, some teams took leaps of faith for unique prospects.
The Cowboys spent a Day 2 pick on 6-foot-4 cornerback Nahshon Wright, and the Ravens did the same for the versatile, hyper-productive Brandon Stephens. It was a bit surprising to see press coverage specialist Benjamin St-Juste go as high as he did. Still, the biggest surprise was Ifeatu Melifonwu — a borderline first-round prospect for some — falling to the Lions at 101.
Cornerbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Round 4
17) Darren Hall, San Diego State | R4-P108 | Atlanta Falcons
18) Zech McPhearson, Texas Tech | R4-P123 | Philadelphia Eagles
19) Camryn Bynum, California | R4-P125 | Minnesota Vikings
20) Robert Rochell, Central Arkansas | R4-P130 | Los Angeles Rams
21) Marco Wilson, Florida | R4-P136 | Arizona Cardinals
22) Tre Brown, Oklahoma | R4-P137 | Seattle Seahawks
The crop of cornerbacks in Round 4 of the 2021 NFL Draft might be one of the class’s most intriguing groups. Darren Hall could be an eventual starter in the slot, while Zech McPhearson provides some athletic upside for the Eagles to mold.
Camryn Bynum is an innovative, versatile player who can help an ailing Vikings defense. Robert Rochell provides another top-tier athlete for the Rams to line up alongside Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams. Marco Wilson also gives Arizona plenty of potential to develop. Meanwhile, Tre Brown is a feisty competitor who should fit the Seahawks’ mantra.
Cornerbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Round 5
23) Shaun Wade, Ohio State | R5-P160 | Baltimore Ravens
24) Keith Taylor, Washington | R5-P166 | Carolina Panthers
25) Nate Hobbs, Illinois | R5-P167 | Las Vegas Raiders
26) Deommodore Lenoir, Oregon | R5-P172 | San Francisco 49ers
27) Jason Pinnock, Pittsburgh | R5-P175 | New York Jets
28) Shemar Jean-Charles, Appalachian State | R5-P178 | Green Bay Packers
29) Avery Williams, Boise State | R5-P183 | Atlanta Falcons
At this time last year, Shaun Wade was a regular in first-round mock drafts. Yet, once the 2021 NFL Draft came to a close, he fell out of the first four rounds. The Ravens drafted him in Round 5 and may move him to safety. Wade’s tumble is the biggest storyline from CBs in this range, but there’s plenty of upside outside of him.
Nate Hobbs and Jason Pinnock are two elite athletes who could outplay their draft positions. Keith Taylor flashed at the Senior Bowl and enters a situation ripe with opportunity in Carolina. The same can be said for Deommodore Lenoir, who has the fluidity and competitive nature to contribute early for the 49ers.
Cornerbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft | Rounds 6 & 7
30) Brandin Echols, Kentucky | R6-P200 | New York Jets
31) Rodarius Williams, Oklahoma State | R6-P201 | New York Giants
32) Rachad Wildgoose, Wisconsin | R6-P213 | Buffalo Bills
33) Tay Gowan, UCF | R6-P223 | Arizona Cardinals
34) Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina | R6-P227 | Dallas Cowboys
35) Thomas Graham Jr., Oregon | R6-P228 | Chicago Bears
36) Kary Vincent Jr., LSU | R7-P237 | Denver Broncos
37) Chris Wilcox, BYU | R7-P251 | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cornerback is one of the most important positions in football. That’s evidenced by the number of cornerbacks that have already gone off the board up to this point. Teams can’t waste any time trying to get their guys. But even in Rounds 6 and 7, there are some intriguing prospects worth adding.
Tay Gowan and Thomas Graham Jr. stand out as the best value acquisitions in this range. Gowan has the length to enforce himself at the catch point, and he shows off some mirroring ability in man coverage. Moreover, Graham has the skill set of a zone cornerback who could see playing time early with his hip fluidity and instincts.
How many cornerbacks were drafted in 2021?
In total, 37 cornerbacks were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. That’s a massive increase from the 2020 NFL Draft, which only saw 27 cornerbacks come off the board in the seven-round stretch. That change amounts to a year-to-year increase of approximately 37%.
The 2020 class did have six first-round cornerbacks compared to the 2021 class’s five. However, most, if not all, of the 2020 first-rounders have experienced some degree of uncertainty to this point. Jeff Okudah, C.J. Henderson, A.J. Terrell, and Noah Igbinoghene will all be banking on second-year jumps. Damon Arnette may already be falling out of favor with the Raiders, and Jeff Gladney’s future is up in the air after an off-field incident.
There’s a great deal of excitement for the 2021 class’s debut season, and the 2020 group of cornerbacks didn’t set the bar very high. Much like other position groups, these two classes will be juxtaposed against one another for years to come. Yet, already, the 2021 class demands plenty of confidence.
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