The NFL offseason is anything but an offseason. It seems like every hour we have a new storyline pop up, grab our attention, and then quickly disappear as something new comes along that’s even more interesting. Earlier this week, a huge piece of news came out. In the midst of free agency, pro days, and the ongoing Deshaun Watson legal case, it has seemingly gotten swept under the rug. On Monday, reports came out that former Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley would be undergoing a microdiscectomy and would be unable to participate in Virginia Tech’s Pro Day this upcoming Friday. This news has massive ramifications to not just Farley’s draft status, but the top 10 overall and this cornerback class.
A microdiscectomy, from what I have gathered, isn't a super-serious procedure and Farley should be ready to go before training camp. Now, to be clear, I am not a doctor, and this procedure may be more serious than reports are leading on. That being said, even if this procedure isn’t major, it will still negatively affect Farley’s draft stock.
As a prospect, Farley is nearly everything you’d want in a cornerback. He has excellent size, great length, and is an outstanding athlete. He is loose and fluid in coverage and has outstanding ball skills. Farley has the size and foot quickness to excel in press-man and has outstanding straight-line speed. Farley projects to be a difference-making defender early in his career, and because of that was a near-lock to be a top-10 selection. However, Farley did come with some question marks as well. Farley was already a player with some medical history, as he tore his ACL back in 2017 and then dealt with recurring back spasms in 2019 which eventually cost him the last two games of that season. While these injuries are in the past and otherwise minor, when you add that he is now undergoing back surgery, the medical situation goes from OK to a red flag.
Outside of his medicals, Farley did also opt out of the season in 2020 to focus on the NFL draft, so it’s been nearly 18 months since anyone in the NFL has seen Farley play. There will be evaluators that really value that extra year of football and film to evaluate and while I think Farley’s 2019 tape was good enough to warrant a top pick, some in the NFL won’t. The fact that Farley was an opt out and can’t work out at his pro day isn’t great either. Teams wanted to get times on Farley and verify what they were seeing on tape to establish himself as a top prospect, but now their sole evaluation will be from his 2019 film. Again, these are issues that aren’t major, but there are just more unknowns around Farley than you’d like to see in a potential top-10 pick, and general managers will note that.
Farley can just as easily still be a top-10 pick. All it takes is one team to fall in love with his immense talent and pull the trigger. However, if I were a betting man, I believe Farley will fall out of the top 10 and depending on if teams have even more information on his medicals, could fall to the 20s. Farley falling would have drastic ramifications for both the top-10 picks of this year’s draft and the cornerback class as a whole.
In the top 10, you could make an argument that four teams would pull the trigger on a cornerback—and before Monday’s news, Farley was the name most likely to go off the board first. Now those teams will most likely turn their attention to Alabama's Patrick Surtain II if they want to draft a cornerback. Surtain and Farley are the two best corners in this class and I personally don’t think the gap is wide at all. Surtain is an outstanding player and will all but certainly hear his name come off the board first in this corner class.
However, Surtain won’t be the only corner that could see his stock rise in the event Farley falls on draft day. Here are three other corner prospects who could see a boost after Monday’s news.
Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
For sports betters, the prop bet I’d be eyeing as it pertains to the NFL draft is the over on Jaycee Horn’s draft projection. Horn has been widely viewed as the next best corner after Farley and Surtain, and there are some who like Horn more than both. Horn is a long, physical corner with excellent athleticism. He is ultra-competitive both through the route and at the catch point. His Jalen Ramsey-esque confidence is something I believe only the best corners have, and for teams who are heavy in press-man, he could be their guy. If Farley falls, Horn can hear his name called as early as the top 10, as we know corner is such a premium position at the top of the draft.
Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
Perhaps the name who has garnered the most attention in the draft evaluation process is Northwestern’s Greg Newsome. Newsome is a corner with good size and excellent athletic ability. He has very good instincts in zone coverage and good ability to drive on the football. Newsome is a smooth athlete who has fluid hips to change directions in man coverage. He is an excellent player in the run game who is quick to key and come with good angles to the football. He will most likely now hear his name called within the top 20 picks of this year’s draft and could go ahead of Farley.
Eric Stokes, Georiga
I do believe that there is a gap between Farley, Surtain, Horn, and Newsome and then the next best corner, but there are still some guys who are very talented in the next tier. The player I feel is the best of the second tier outside corners is Eric Stokes. Stokes recently made headlines for running a blazing 40-yard dash at Georgia's Pro Day, running a 4.25u. His elite speed is only one of his strengths. Stokes has good size and length to match up with receivers on the outside and has good quickness in transitions. Stokes could stand to add to improve his play strength and competitiveness at the catch point, but his raw tools are highly intriguing. Stokes could hear his name called a bit higher than originally expected as other corners hear their name come off the board earlier than expected.