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The Tennessee Titans landed themselves a high-risk, high-reward player at No. 22 overall in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft in cornerback Caleb Farley.
Leading up to this year’s draft, the opinion on Farley was almost unanimous: he’s an elite talent with great potential, but there are concerns about his back, which will ultimately lead to him sliding from a potential top-10 pick to a late first-round selection at best.
And that’s exactly what happened; but what exactly intrigued the Titans enough to take a chance on him at No. 22 overall?
We can get a good idea by taking a look at the pre-draft scouting reports of experts on Farley ahead of the 2021 NFL draft.
Chad Reuter, NFL.com
Farley possesses rare size for the position and does an excellent job of utilizing his frame and length to charge rent inside the catch space. While his traits and ball skills will be coveted, he’s still light on overall reps at the cornerback position. He needs to continue to improve his technique and discipline as he displays inconsistencies staying connected to routes at times. Farley is an ascending talent who fits more cleanly in a press-heavy scheme. Might require early patience as he continues to gain the polish necessary to become a quality NFL starter. Concerns surrounding his past injuries and latest back procedure could cause him to slip in the draft.
Joe Marino, The Draft Network
Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley enters the NFL after playing quarterback in high school, beginning his college career as a wide receiver, and then transitioning to defense where he shined as a cornerback for the Hokies in 2019. While he is new to the position, his film does not resemble a player that is still learning the ropes. Farley brings a rare blend of physical traits to the table in terms of size, length, quickness, fluidity, and athleticism that he pairs with exceptional man coverage skills that make him an exciting NFL prospect. Not only is he sticky in man coverage, Farley has game-changing ball skills and is an alpha in coverage. Unfortunately, his injury history is concerning. Farley suffered a non-contact ACL tear in 2017 that forced him to miss the season and then missed the last two games in 2019 due to back spasms, an issue Justin Fuente said Farley dealt with all season long. When it comes to on-the-field issues, Farley is a fairly complete prospect that is clearly ascending but sharpening his zone coverage skills would be beneficial. Additionally, he needs to develop his tackling technique to decrease an alarming amount of whiffs on tape. Farley has a full toolbox of traits to develop into a shutdown corner at the next level that can create takeaways. Ideal Role: Starting outside cornerback Scheme Fit: Schemes that feature large amounts of press and man coverage
Tony Pauline, Pro Football Network
Positives: Excellent-sized cornerback with outstanding speed and ball skills. Physical, jams receivers at the line of scrimmage and mixes it up throughout the route. Quick and fluid pedaling in reverse, easily flips his hips and loses nothing in transition. Stays on the receiver’s hip out of breaks, nicely covers opponents on crossing patterns, and possesses an explosive closing burst. Effective backed off the line of scrimmage or facing the action, remains disciplined with assignments, and rarely gets challenged by opponents. Does a terrific job getting his head back around and locating the ball in the air. Works hard to get off blocks and make plays up the field against the run. Negatives: Misreads the action and loses assignments on occasion. Instincts run hot and cold. Possesses a thin frame and must improve his playing strength. Had back surgery in March, missing pro day workouts, and may not be ready for football until later this summer. Analysis: Farley was a terrific cornerback at Virginia Tech since his freshman season, and I’ve had him highly graded since that time. While I like Farley, I never saw him be a consistent shutdown corner during his time at Virginia Tech and believe he made a mistake opting out of the 2020 season. He’s incredibly athletic, possesses good ball skills, and comes with a large upside. Farley comes with good scheme versatility to be used backed off the line of scrimmage in a zone scheme or in man coverage. While he will ultimately be a good NFL corner, I believe there will be bumps in the road before he gets there.
The NFL Draft Bible (Sports Illustrated)
There might not be a more physically gifted cornerback in the 2021 draft than Farley. With outstanding size and length for the position, Farley has the body type to match up favorably against bigger boundary wide receivers with high effectiveness. Playing mostly off-man coverage, Farley has some uncommon transitional quickness for a player his size. His click and close out of his back-pedal is some of the easiest movements found regardless of his size. Farley is able to close quickly on all underneath routes, routinely affecting the catch point. As a former wide receiver early in his career, Farley has some insane ball skills that enables him to make a plethora of plays in the air, posting a lot of big-time ball production during his career. He is a springy athlete who is able to elevate and win at the highest point in the air. If he is able to put it all together in the near future, Farley has the type of upside to become one of the top cover corners in the NFL in the near future. Still relatively new to the position, some technical lapses for Farley can be seen at times. Live reps are essential for Farley moving forward, something that he missed out on during the 2020 season after opting out. He is not comfortable in press currently, failing to unlock his physicality to stun momentum early in reps. In zone coverage, far too often he is out of position, failing to stay disciplined in deep zone coverage. This can lead to some big plays for the offense. The North Carolina native has dealt with a variety of injuries during his career, including a torn ACL that cost him the 2017 season. He will need to quiet those durability concerns early in his career. With Farley’s combination of size, ball skills and athleticism, he is a good bet to hear his name inside the first round of the 2021 draft.
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL.com
Farley has outstanding size, length and speed for the cornerback position. He mixes up his technique and effectively re-routes wideouts with a one- or two-hand jam in press coverage. He's very fluid/loose and stays in phase with his man underneath and down the field. Farley has a quick/smooth pedal in off coverage and his patience helps him handle double moves. He shows exceptional burst when he does drive on the ball. The redshirt junior has plenty of speed to carry vertical routes. He can find and play the ball down the field. He's aggressive to fill versus the run, but he will fall off a few tackles. Overall, Farley has all of the ingredients to be a No. 1 cornerback at the next level.
Sam Monson, Pro Football Focus
Caleb Farley is a physical freak, and while the NFL is a league stuffed full of those playing wide receiver, not nearly as many cornerbacks are able to match up. Farley isn’t perfect, but his issues all seem coachable and stem from minor technique issues that can be cleaned up with some time and attention. He isn't even punished for much of what he does wrong because of the athletic traits and size he brings to the table. A cornerback as big and as fast as he is can obstruct so much space within a throwing lane and a passing window, essentially decreasing the size of every target a quarterback is throwing to. That doesn't happen with just any cornerback — it is a special card to bring to the table. Looking at the timeline of his tape, it seems like there is a lot of negative in there relative to how good a player I think he can be, but it’s because all of those negatives are offset with just one or two special traits, and most of them are minor quibbles. Yes, they show up, but the size and speed show up on every single play, and I just didn’t note it down each time. His most special trait is the closing speed and burst to the catch point that he can bring, often rescuing plays where he looks beaten and making a play despite giving up separation early. At the NFL level, receivers are big, fast and able to separate regularly. Expecting a corner never to allow a gap to open up is just unrealistic, so Farley’s ability to close that gap just as quickly as it opens is hugely valuable. I think he has the traits to be a special player. He allowed just 48% of targets thrown his way to be caught over his college career, a figure that dropped all the way to 36% in 2019. Farley should be a top-10 pick and will be a better player in the NFL than he was in college if his technique can get cleaned up in a few different areas.
Laurie Fitzpatrick, Draft Wire
Farley is a smart, athletic defender. It’s no surprise, because he was an All-State quarterback in high school. He understands how to diagnose plays, and knows where the ball is going on every snap. His small hands aren’t a concern, with his arm length being in the 95th percentile. His speed, play strength and football IQ make him a top-tier corner in this class. Teams can play jam and man-to-man with Farley, but he excels in soft press and zone coverage.
Shaun Calderon, Titans Wire
Farley has an extremely rare combination of athleticism and length. Most cornerbacks that have his length are often less agile and lack the athleticism necessary to truly be elite. Meanwhile, corners that have similar athleticism tend to be shorter, which can limit their ability to play the ball while it’s in the air.
Farley has great explosiveness for any athlete, let alone one that is 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds. He excels at getting physical at the line and has a magnificent ability to remain coordinated while using his 4.2 speed to mirror his opponents when defending the vertical attack.
One of the most natural traits that the former Virginia Tech cornerback possesses is an elite ability to click and close on the ball in order to disrupt the pass. He loves to bait the quarterback into thinking he is beat before using his impressive recovery speed to turn the opportunity into a wasted play for the offense. Farley is extremely fluid when pedaling in reverse and he easily flips his hips and hardly breaks stride when forced to quickly change direction. He does a terrific job at getting his head back around and locating the ball in the air in order to make a play.
Farley consistently stays on the receivers’ hip pocket out of breaks and also does a nice job at covering opponents on crossing patterns, slants, or anything the offense throws at him to try and uncover quickly.
The former Hokie brings value on run defense as well. He is a tireless worker when trying to get off blocks and is never short on effort in order to make plays up the field against the run.
Farley is also scheme versatile, as he has excelled when playing both man and zone concepts and is able to succeed when playing press or off coverage.
Interestingly enough, when you listen to Farley talk, he doesn’t think it’s his physical attributes that separate him from the rest of the class. Instead, he believes the mental aspect of his game and his “dedication, drive, and passion” are what truly sets him apart.
Farley also describes himself as a professional and a perfectionist when working on his craft, and that is exactly what will be expected of him when he’s selected in the first round on April 29th.