With the way that NFL offenses have evolved over the years and now that just about every quarterback can reach 3,500-4,000 passing yards in a given season, the need for strong play at the cornerback position continues to become more important every year. You can make the case that the cornerback position is fourth on the ranking of important positions on the field, behind the quarterback, edge rushers, and offensive tackle.

When it comes to the upcoming group of cornerbacks for the 2021 NFL Draft, there are already some intriguing names popping up beyond the perceived top two of Alabama‘s Patrick Surtain II and Ohio State’s Shaun Wade.

One of those other intriguing names has already begun getting some love across media outlets and draft analysts. Caleb Farley is set to be the latest in the line of Virginia Tech cornerbacks entering the NFL. He’s got the skills to hear his name in the first round next year, but is it a possibility he can be the first cornerback off the board when the football world convenes in Cleveland next April? Let’s take a look at three reasons why Farley could yet be a surprising name as the top cornerback taken in 2021.

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Excellent ball skills

More often than not, if the ball is coming toward Farley, he is either intercepting the pass or making sure the intended target is not coming away with the ball. Farley was second in the ACC in pass breakups with 12, behind only Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr., who had 14. His four interceptions were tied for the lead in the ACC, and only six players in the country had more. Those interceptions, combined with the 12 pass breakups, meant he led the ACC in passes defended last season.

Speed and athleticism

Farley is quick and smooth in his movements and rarely lets the opposing wide receivers beat him. He did give up a touchdown late in Virginia Tech’s 2019 game against Miami but that is about as negative as you find with Farley’s tape, as that was the only touchdown Farley allowed in 2019. Part of the reason he is so good when matched up with opposing receivers is his quick hips giving him the ability to stay with his receivers, not allowing a lot of separation, and making it hard for the quarterback to find a window to complete a pass.

Once Farley learned the nuances of and became more comfortable with the cornerback position, he was able to allow his athleticism to take over and became outstanding on the outside. His athleticism has been apparent throughout his football career, including as a dual-threat quarterback in high school, where he was named second-team All-State.

Still growing and developing at the position

For as good as Farley has been so far in his career, he still has the potential to be even better. After redshirting in 2017 due to a knee injury, Farley transitioned to the cornerback position for 2018. Naturally, he had growing pains during that first season, which makes his 2019 season that much more impressive.

Farley only has two years of experience at cornerback but that certainly hasn’t stopped other prospects from going high in the draft. Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene, who also has only played two years at cornerback, was drafted 30th overall by the Miami Dolphins. The fact that Farley gets another year in school to develop should only continue to build his draft stock. There is plenty of potential still to be tapped with Farley and the more he flashes in 2020, the more his draft stock goes up.

Right now Surtain and Wade are the number one and rightly so, but keep in mind that Kristian Fulton was seen as a possible top-15 pick last summer and he fell to the end of the second round. At the same time, Jeff Okudah was not considered a first-round pick by some in the media this time last year and he ended up going third overall. Stranger things have certainly happened.