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49ers pick cornerback in data-driven 2021 NFL mock draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Most NFL mock drafts are based on evaluation, team needs, what people are hearing, personal feeling and more. This one is different.
Cynthia Frelund, NFL Media's analytics expert, released her first 2021 NFL mock draft on Tuesday, which "is based solely on a contextual, data-driven model" to maximize each team's win totals. And her first edition fills a big roster hole for the 49ers. In this case, the 49ers select Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley.
"PFF credits Farley with allowing a passer rating in coverage of just 26.8 in 2019 (he opted out in 2020). My model shows the Virginia Tech product had the best pursuit speed of any available corner in this draft. Combine him with that nasty Niners front, and new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will get off to a great start," Frelund wrote on Farley.
Farley is competing with Alabama's Patrick Surtain II as the top cornerback in this year's draft. He's listed at 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, giving him great length to lock up the best receivers at the next level. Over two seasons at Virginia Tech (23 games), he recorded six interceptions and 19 passes defensed.
Pro Football Focus gave Farley a 90.5 coverage grade in 2019. He allowed nine first downs that season and 10 incomplete passes.
Going into free agency, cornerback looks like the 49ers' lightest position on the roster. Headlined by Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett, the 49ers could lose every corner this offseason who played significant snaps last season.
Targeting Farley would make plenty of sense for general manager John Lynch. Farley, Surtain and Jaycee Horn all should be corners high on his big board.
Which way will the 49ers go next month? It's anyone's guess, but the numbers like the shutdown corner.