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Big Blue View round table: Patrick Surtain II vs. Caleb Farley

If the choice at No. 11 came down to these two cornerbacks, our writers debate which of the two talented players they would select

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Many of the questions sent to the Big Blue View Mailbag are excellent and thought-provoking. One that came in this week about the New York Giants and draft scenarios was, I thought, perfect for our Big Blue View Round Table series.

Thanks to Jeff Newman for the following question:

Question: If the Giants decide to go cornerback at pick 11 and have the choice to draft Patrick Surtain II or Caleb Farley would you choose the higher floor lower ceiling, probable Day 1 starter Surtain or the lower floor, but higher ceiling, possible bit of a project, but with all the tools to become one of the top corners in the league Caleb Farley?

Nick Falato — Surtain

This is a good one! Both players are excellent prospects. Firstly, let’s keep in mind who’s making these selections - Dave Gettleman. Should Big Blue go with the twitchier, more explosive athlete who has all the necessary traits to be a top corner in the league, or should they go with the experienced technician who is never out of position and who has played some of the best receivers in college football? The latter is Surtain II and the former is Farley, who hasn’t seen a football field since 2019.

It’s fair to simplify the argument and say that it’s upside (Farley) vs. a high floor (Surtain II), but I feel that diminishes Surtain’s skill-set a bit. Yes, Surtain II is a safer pick - he started as a true freshman for Nick Saban’s defense, but he still has upside. There’s a ton of merit to a high processing press corner that sees the field well and is incredibly effective against the run. It’s also fair to say Farley is the better athlete, but there are more questions surrounding the Virginia Tech product: hasn’t played in a year, isn’t as good against the run, doesn’t have the same level of experience, hasn’t played much press, etc.

I’m going with Surtain II, a 20-year-old, hard-nosed, cornerback who gets knocked for not having top-level athletic ability but is a good overall athlete anyways. It also seems like Gettleman would covet a player like Surtain II: has NFL bloodlines, started for Alabama as a true freshman, plays the run, can press, etc. I would entertain both players, but if I had to choose, I’m going with Surtain II as of right now.

Ryan Magill — Farley

Both guys are amazingly talented. Considering where the Giants are at right now, however, I actually think Farley would make a little more sense. Surtain is a fantastic corner, and he has the tape to prove how skilled he is. But I would argue that the Giants are in a position to take a high-risk and high-upside player like Farley, mostly because the team can afford to properly coach him while building back towards playoff contention.

A former high school quarterback recruited to play wide receiver at Virginia Tech, Farley transitioned to cornerback after a knee injury in his freshman year. He broke out in 2019, being named an All-ACC First Team player while leading the ACC in passes defended with 16 and tying for second with four picks as well. For a player who is relatively new to the position, he has really shown out with solid coverage ability and dominant athleticism. Farley did opt out of the 2020 season, but plenty of top draft prospects did the same thing (Ex: Ja’Marr Chase, Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater, etc) and they will likely be highly drafted despite not playing either.

The Giants have a situation that compliments Farley too. He won’t have to cover WR1s right away with reigning Pro Bowler James Bradberry on the team, while still being a clear upgrade at the CB2 spot where the Giants lacked consistency. Farley can spend time learning the position further in a veteran defensive back room with Bradberry and Logan Ryan. And with time spent as CB2, Farley can transition into CB1 if and when he is ready.

If Farley puts it all together, he could become one of the best cornerbacks in the game. I absolutely love Surtain’s game and it would be a lot of fun to watch him and former teammate Xavier McKinney team up again. But I’m going with Farley and betting on Patrick Graham and the defensive coaching staff’s ability to maximize his immense potential to turn him into a superstar.

Joseph Czikk — Surtain

How soon do you want your investment to pay dividends? As soon as possible, or are you comfortable waiting for it to grow? That’s the essential question with Patrick Surtain II and Caleb Farley. Most experts believes Surtain II is more complete now, but has a lower ceiling than Farley, who has the chance to become a star in the NFL.

As Nick Falato mentioned, both corners are excellent prospects.

Surtain II’s eye test blows me away, and I believe he’s a future No. 1 corner in the NFL.

At the same time, it feels like the Giants’ window for error is a little smaller these days. I’m not sure the Giants have the required organizational patience to develop Farley after the team spent the past few seasons essentially as rebuild years.

They need a complete guy who can step in right away and make an impact. Surtain is that guy. The intelligence factor jumps out right away. His mental trigger is “instantaneous,” wrote Pro Football Network, despite Alabama’s massive defensive playbook.

And here’s what Todd McShay said about him: “When you see him press and reroute wide receivers that’s when I think he’s at his best… He’s just such a pro. He’s physical, he’s basically got everything you look for.”

I’ll take that!

Emily Iannaconi - Surtain

This is a tough call as both corners would bring different strengths to the Giants. For New York, I think it’s a question of urgency. The Giants need a strong, consistent cornerback who can work alongside James Bradberry. And I think they need to go with the guy who looks more poised to make an immediate impact at the NFL level in Surtain. Remember New York’s Week 15 loss to the Browns? Bradberry’s absence (due to a rogue chiropractor visit) was palpable in the Giants’ 20-6 loss. Isaac Yiadom and Julian Love did not and cannot get the job done.

The Giants’ recent cornerback draft picks of Deandre Baker, Sam Beal and Corey Ballentine have been largely unsuccessful. Though Farley shows the potential to be an elite corner in the NFL as he gains more experience, I do not think the Giants have time to wait. A proven winner on Nick Saban’s championship-winning team, Surtain finished his college career with 116 total tackles, 82 solo tackles, six tackles for loss, four interceptions, one touchdown, 24 pass deflections, one fumble recovery and four forced fumbles.

Farley, meanwhile, opted out of the 2020 campaign. He finished his two years with respectable numbers, tallying 56 total tackles, 43 solo tackles, one tackle for loss, six interceptions, one touchdown and 19 pass deflections. But I think Surtain has the physicality and toughness to make New York more of an immediate threat in the secondary.

Chris Pflum — Surtain

Given the choice between these two players, I’m not sure the Giants could really go wrong. However, I think I would take Surtain as he is a plug-and-play defender who could execute just about any coverage you ask of him and is still a plenty good athlete in his own right.

While the Giants’ defense was much improved last year, and their coverage was a driving factor in that, it was still held back by the limitations of the players not named “James Bradberry.” Surtain is good and versatile enough to allow Patrick Graham to fully open up his playbook and not have the same issues we saw against the Cardinals, Browns, and Ravens. And if the Giants want to play the same brand of defense we saw last year, continuing to upgrade the secondary is a must. That’s not to say Farley would be particularly inferior to Surtain, but there would likely be far fewer growing pains from a player who has been starting in Nick Saban’s defense since his freshman year.

Of course, to break the question somewhat, it is entirely possible that neither of these players are available, so I want to take the opportunity to name-drop South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn. I happen to think that Horn could well be the same caliber of player as the other two players. He is an incredibly physical, aggressive, and effective press-man corner whose game reminds me of Stephon Gilmore, if Gilmore played with Aqib Talib’s attitude.

Mark Schofield — Surtain

This is a fascinating discussion, and if the Giants are faced with both of these options you could make the case — as others have before me — that almost nothing could go wrong.

Surtain is a versatile player coming from a Nick Saban system that asks a ton of its cornerbacks. Cornerbacks in that system are tasked with reads, are tasked with switching from zone to man responsibilities on a given play, and that defense is as close to an NFL system as you can get for a college corner. Throughout his career, Surtain has been asked with covering some of the SEC’s best receivers, and he has done that well. Almost since the time he set foot on campus.

Then there is Farley, who might offer a bit more of an upside and room to grow as a corner. He is relatively new to the position, having started his ACC career as a wide receiver, and he chose to opt-out this past season. But his athleticism and his background as a wide receiver gives him perhaps an advantage over many receivers. He has been in their shoes before, he knows how they think, and that when combined with his ability to click on breaks and drive on the football is perfect for a man coverage defender.

I do not think the Giants could go wrong with either player. One might prefer the upside of Farley, and others might prefer the plug-and-play ability of Surtain. That is where I would lean, as Surtain’s ability to pick up an NFL coverage scheme given his background with Saban is an impressive club to have in the bag. But both are tremendous talents and the Giants would be in a great position if this is a choice they face on the first night of the draft.

Valentine’s View — Farley

I’m fairly certain I can predict what the Giants would do faced with this question. Given coach Joe Judge’s Alabama ties and the reticence GM Dave Gettleman’s expressed Tuesday about players who opted out of the 2020 season I would be surprised if Surtain was not the choice.

Now, what would I do? The rest of our staff has already framed this debate — pretty much a sure thing as a good NFL player in Surtain vs. a player in Farley with the athletic gifts to be more than good if he maximizes them. I’m with Mark Schofield and Chris Pflum in that I don’t think there is a wrong answer.

I am reminded of last year’s debate about offensive tackles. There really wasn’t, and in my view still isn’t, a wrong answer among Andrew Thomas, Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs and Mekhi Becton. In my final mock draft last year, I came down on the side of choosing the mountainous Becton simply because of the potential for him to be the best of the bunch if he maximizes his gifts. That wasn’t the safest play, but could end up with the biggest payoff.

I think that’s where I am with Surtain vs. Farley.

The draft, remember, is not necessarily about the upcoming season. It is about setting your team up for long-term success. When it comes to evaluating college prospects, Judge speaks all the time about not about seeing what a player is, but being able to project what he might become. Even Tuesday, Judge said he was “a long-term picture guy.”

The Giants need an immediate upgrade at CB2. Either player could be that, in my view. Long-term, they need to find a few difference-making players who could be better than good. For that reason, I think I would take the home run swing and choose Farley.

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