2021 NFL draft prospects: Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley

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Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley

6-foot-2, 207 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.01 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Press-CB prototype with exciting ball skills and upside whose worrisome medical evaluation clouds his landing spot

Games watched: Notre Dame (2018), Boston College (2019), Notre Dame (2019), Miami (2019), North Carolina (2019)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit, Farley committed to the Hokies and redshirted during the 2017 season after suffering a knee injury during preseason camp. He’d been working at wide receiver that year (after playing QB in high school) before switching to cornerback in the spring of 2018. That season Farley played in 13 games (starting 12) and made 36 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and seven passes defended. In 2019, he logged 20 tackles, four interceptions (one returned for a TD) and an ACC-best 16 pass breakups despite missing two games with a back injury. Farley opted out of the 2020 season and declared early for the 2021 draft. He didn't work out at Tech’s pro day after having back surgery three days prior to repair a herniated disc.

Upside: Ideal combination of size and athleticism to fit the modern press-CB prototype. Stands a shade under 6-foot-2, with long arms (33 3/8 inches) and a respectable wingspan (76 1/4 inches). Extremely fast — reportedly was running in the 4.3s for his 40-yard dash training prior to undergoing surgery.

Natural coverage ability is stunning for such a new player to the position. Gets low in his stance and flips hips well. Good recovery speed to handle vertical threats who gain a step on him. Good short-area quickness to adjust to quick stuff underneath. Fluid transitions.

Football instincts have translated from high school QB to lockdown corner. Tracks the ball extremely well. Terrific production (six INTs, 23 PDs in two seasons) in smaller sample size. Allowed only 29 catches and two TDs (on 69 targets) in his final 18 college games.

The 2019 UNC game was a teaching tape in coverage — ran the routes for the receivers, glued himself to them, offered no space to operate and seemingly batted down every ball thrown his way (although he strangely didn’t face off with either of the Tar Heels’ best receivers, Dyami Brown or Dazz Newsome, often in the game).

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 03: Virginia Tech Hokies defensive back Caleb Farley (3) catches the kickoff during the game between the Florida State Seminoles and the Virginia Tech Hokies September 03, 2018, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida.(Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley looks like an ideal NFL press corner, but his medical evaluation will be crucial. (Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Shows a willingness to support the run. Snappy reaction time to click and close on routes once the ball is in the air. Handled matchups nicely against bigger, more physical receivers and could even be tried as a tight end eraser. Experience playing the left (2019) and right (2018) sides extensively. Also lurks as an overhang defender and isn’t out of place close to the box.

Rapid, impressive improvement in a short time — if this is the starting point, he could be great in time with coaching and patience. Has the traits, production and tape to be great in the NFL if the medical evaluation is favorable.

Humble, willing learner. Plays with confidence. Believes every ball has his name on it. Aggressive, alpha corner who has a taste for taking on the toughest matchups. Displayed mental and physical toughness his first two years on campus, losing his mother to cancer, suffering a torn ACL and playing nearly the entire 2018 season through back pain following a preseason weight-lifting injury.

Evaluators have told Yahoo Sports that they are confident that Farley’s decision to opt out was a more-than-reasonable one considering he already lost one parent and was fearful of losing another.

Downside: Concerning injury history — 2017 ACL tear, chronic back spasms in 2019 and multiple back procedures, including a March microdiscectomy that could leave him out for summer workouts and possibly cut into the start of training camp. Compound medical worries could scare off teams.

Opted out in 2020 — no recent tape. Last game was in November 2019 after missing final two games of that season. Very limited experience — only 24 career games and two years’ experience at cornerback over the past four years. Came in 10 pounds below (197) his listed weight of 207 at pro-day measurements. Small hands (8 3/4 inches), although it hasn’t appeared to affect his ability to make plays on the ball.

Tackling concerns remain unanswered. Will take poor angles in run support and fly by tackle attempts — will lunge and lead with shoulder too often. Got better at it in 2019 but remains raw in this area. Wasn’t utilized much as a blitzer despite logging his only career sack in his first college game.

Fits press-man template but wasn’t asked to do it that often in a zone-heavy system. Can mistime his jab and get beaten off the line. Doesn’t harness his great length well enough yet in press. Overaggressive to a fault at times — will squat on routes and get jumpy on double moves. Flagged five times in 2019 — including twice for pass interference vs. Old Dominion.

Still learning the finer points of the position. Doesn’t appear comfortable in zone coverage yet — needs better feel for passing off receivers and handling switches in coverage. Unnatural in his backpedal. Can lose phase on longer-developing routes and get handsy downfield — inklings of panic once in a while.

Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool stressed him more than once in the 2019 outing. Limited special teams experience and utility. Stayed on an island — never asked to follow opponents’ best receivers. Very limited slot experience.

Best-suited destination: Farley’s projection has changed dramatically following his second back procedure. Prior to that, he was viewed as the possible CB1 in this class. Now his status remains up in the air.

If healthy, he likely fits best in a press-man/Cover 3 systems where his length, athleticism and playmaking ability can be weaponized, although his inexperience can’t be overlooked. The team that drafts Farley must be confident in his health as well as patient with his development at a relatively new position.

Did you know: Farley was an all-state dual-threat QB who reportedly ran a sub-4.3 40 in high school.

Player comp: Byron Jones.

Expected draft range: A once no-doubt first-rounder, Farley’s cloudy medical picture could cause him to fall — perhaps similar to Sidney Jones, who slid to the 43rd overall pick in 2017 following an Achilles injury.