The 2021 NFL Draft process has been bizarre for a number of reasons, not the least of which has been the wildly varying amount of tape available on different prospects. Not only did different conferences play different numbers of games, but players across the country opted out of the 2021 season.
Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley made waves by being the first big prospect to opt out of the 2020 season. He made his announcement on July 29th, saying, “After much consideration with my family, I have decided to opt out of the 2020 college football season and begin preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft. I am opting out due to uncertain health conditions and regulations and all the other opt-outs going on in football right now.”
He also added that the death of his mother played into his decision. “I tragically lost my mother, Robin, on Jan. 2, 2018, due to illness, and I can not afford to lose another parent or a loved one,” Farley said. ”Though the competitor in me badly wants to play this season, I can not ignore what’s going on in my heart and I must make the decision that brings me the most peace.”
While Farley was able to rest on strength of his 2019 tape as a case for being one of the top cornerbacks in the upcoming draft class, his draft stock is uncertain. The play of other corners likely pushed them past him on the draft board, and new injury concerns could be pushing Farley down. All that being said, he is certainly an attractive talent on the field.
Prospect: Caleb Farley
Games Watched: vs. Virginia (2018), vs. Miami (2019), vs. Notre Dame (2019), vs. Wake Forest (2019)
Red Flags: Back (2019)
Games Played: 23
Tackles For A Loss: 1.0
Passes Defensed: 19
Interceptions: 6 (1 touchdown)
Games Played: 10
Tackles For A Loss: 0.0
Passes Defensed: 12
Interceptions: 4 (1 touchdown)
Best: Size, athleticism, ball skills, man coverage, football IQ
Worst: Zone coverage, block shedding, experience, health
Projection: A starting outside cornerback in a predominantly man coverage scheme.
Cornerback Caleb Farley possesses a prototypical blend of size, length, athleticism, and physicality for a man coverage corner at the NFL level.
Farley typically lines up as the left cornerback, taking inside leverage before the snap. He excels in man coverage and shows good physicality at the start of the play with a strong one or two-hand jam to disrupt timing and knock receivers off their routes. He has a relatively compact and balanced backpedal for a bigger cornerback, keeping his center of gravity low and ready to transition.
Farley has little wasted movement in his transition from backpedal to running with receivers and shows the long speed to keep up with all but the fastest receivers down the field. He also shows very quick feet in transitioning from a backpedal to driving on underneath routes, at times even forgoing the usual “T-Step” most corners need to transition their momentum from backward to forward.
He has good patience and awareness in man coverage, using the receiver’s body language to cue when to play the ball. From there he uses his length well, playing through receivers’ hands to knock the ball away at the catch point. Farley is a physical player who doesn’t shy away from tackle opportunities, nor does he seem to mind getting his hands dirty in run defense.
He plays downhill well and shows the ability to take on and set a firm edge against larger players (even tight ends or fullbacks) in the run game.
Farley is an active communicator before and after the snap, routinely directing teammates and communicating coverage adjustments.
While Farley is a good man coverage corner, he has yet to master the art of maintaining contact without drawing flags. He can be overly physical late in routes, which will certainly draw pass interference penalties in the NFL.
Farley also needs more development in off and zone coverage. He shows a tendency to lose track of the ball carrier when playing off which can slow his play speed. Farley is also prone to taking overly-aggressive angles to the ball when playing in off or zone coverage. While he has the athleticism to get to the ball quickly, he often finds himself out of position to make a clean tackle when he gets there. And while Farley is a willing run defender, he also needs to improve his technique in shedding blocks. Despite being a larger cornerback, he can struggle to get off blocks.
There are also medical concerns regarding Farley. He injured his back lifting weights in college, playing through the 2019 season with a herniated L5 disk and a bulging S1 disk. Farley recently had an out-patient microdiscectomy to address the issue, but teams will want to be cautious regarding his medical checks.
Overall Grade: 8.7 - This prospect has the athletic and mental traits to start and be productive at the NFL level. He will need development to reach his full potential and comes with some medical concerns.
Caleb Farley projects as a starting outside corner in a man coverage scheme.
He has the size and athleticism to match up with the bigger, stronger, and faster receivers on the outside. He also has the physicality and competitive toughness to disrupt the timing of offensive plays with a strong jam at the beginning of a route, or to establish a firm edge in the run game to force outside runs to continue laterally.
Farley is new to the cornerback position, having played quarterback in high school and was recruited to Virginia Tech as a wide receiver. As such still needs some development to reach his ceiling at the NFL level. Farley’s background as a quarterback shows in his pre and post-snap communication. He is an active communicator, frequently relaying information and reads back and forth with teammates both before the snap and during the play.
He doesn’t yet have true positional versatility, as he is still learning how to play in zone or off coverages. That might not be so bad, as the NFL values man coverage skills highly and is always willing to work with a high-upside cornerback with plus athletic tools.
Farley is also only rarely used as a blitzer and isn’t terribly effective the few times he is rushed into the backfield. That being said, he shows good toughness and physicality as a run defender and rarely gets overwhelmed by blockers (at times even taking on tight ends or fullbacks). Farley still needs to improve his technique in shedding blockers to make tackles on the perimeter. He could also do to take slightly less-aggressive angles downhill in run support.
The NFL’s larger concern with Farley might be his medical issues. First described as “back spasms”, it has come out that Farley played the 2019 season with herniated and bulging disks, stemming from a weight room injury. While he has had surgery to address the issues, back injuries can be tricky (to say the least), and teams will want to be sure on his health.
All told, Farley will be a work in progress when drafted, but still a player who can contribute right away in an aggressive man coverage scheme while the rest of his game is developed.