Broncos 2021 NFL Draft: Both sides of the Caleb Farley coin

2021 NFL Draft, Denver Broncos, Caleb Farley Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
2021 NFL Draft, Denver Broncos, Caleb Farley Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Over the course of the next couple of months, the discussion for the Denver Broncos and the 2021 NFL Draft will pretty consistently involve Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley.

Arguably the best prospect in the class at arguably the Broncos’ most pressing team need, Farley makes plenty of logical sense on paper to be new general manager George Paton‘s first-ever draft choice.

As intriguing as Farley is as a prospect, this particular draft class involves some relatively unprecedented obstacles in the evaluation process — not just for Farley but for others. But because Farley is such a popular selection for the Denver Broncos in mock draft scenarios, it’s worth examining both sides of the coin.

The good

Farley is a fascinating talent who came to Virginia Tech as an ultra-athletic “Athlete” who played quarterback in high school. Given his size — Farley is listed at 6’2″ 207 pounds — the Hokies felt like the natural progression for Farley would be at wide receiver.

He began his collegiate career preparing to play receiver (2017) but switched to the defensive backfield in 2018 after missing the season due to a knee injury.

As a cornerback, Farley’s athletic talent shined early and often.

Despite being 6-foot-2, Farley has no problems flipping his hips and using quickness and speed to match different types of receivers. That showed in his ball production as he picked off six passes and broke up 19 others in just 23 college games.

Farley is a rare blend of size, speed, and tremendous ball production at the position. As a converted offensive player, this is a guy whose primary desire in coverage is to get the ball in his hands and make plays.

There is no question about the fact that Farley is a worthy top 10 selection when it comes to his athletic prowess. His combination of speed and lengths will help make up for his lack of time on task at the position at times, and there are plenty of examples of everything clicking when it comes to Farley putting the physical together with the mental/preparation.

At this point, the biggest factors in his favor of being a top 10 selection (and 9th overall for the Broncos):

  • Height/weight/speed specimen
  • Tremendous length for the CB position
  • Athletic traits and size = scheme versatile
  • Some of the top ball skills in the draft
  • Eliminates 50-50 receivers
  • Can win even after getting beat

The bad

While certainly his background on offense contributes to his perceived upside, Farley is not the most technically refined cornerback in this class. That distinction likely belongs to Patrick Surtain II of Alabama. Because those two are so closely rated by most NFL Draft pundits, you have to wonder if the Broncos will prioritize Surtain’s savvy at the position.

Perhaps the biggest risk involved with drafting Farley has nothing to do with his football or physical skills, but his projection of availability at the next level.

He missed the 2017 season (freshman year) due to an ACL injury. He obviously didn’t lose any explosiveness or speed from that, and it might have been a blessing in disguise, all things considered. With that said, that injury has to be factored into his pre-draft evaluation, as does a surgery following the 2019 season on his back.

Farley missed the final two games of the 2019 season after dealing with back spasms and had surgery in the offseason to get it figured out. He later opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns over COVID-19.

All told, the opening day for the 2021 NFL season is September 9, 2021. Farley has not played football since November 23, 2019. It will have been 656 days in between Farley’s most recently played game and his next one.

How big of a concern is that for NFL teams?

For a guy who is still relatively new to the position, it’s got to be somewhat of a factor. You’re talking about spending a top-10 selection on Farley and not only that but your first selection ever as a general manager if you’re George Paton.

There is always going to be risk involved in the NFL Draft, but Farley does present some additional risk with his time on task, his time off of task at this point, and his injury history in just the last three years.

Furthermore, in 23 college games, Farley was credited with 21 missed tackles. That number dropped from 14 in 2018 to just seven in 2019, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless. Remember, tackling is a non-negotiable in Vic Fangio’s defense.

What does Farley have going against him as a possible top-10 pick?

  • Injury history (ACL – 2017 & back – 2019 surgery)
  • Technique and overall refinement as a converted offensive player
  • 21 missed tackles in 23 games
  • Transition to complicated Fangio defense?
  • Will be nearly two years since he’s played

The verdict

Actually, the jury is still out on this one, but with the NFL Draft being as risky as it already is, Caleb Farley seems like the type of talent you take a risk on.

The two sides of this coin are definitely intriguing given the Broncos’ context and the availability of a player like Patrick Surtain II, who has better technique, good tape against a lot of really good SEC receivers in the last three years, and perhaps a better chance of transitioning quickly to Vic Fangio’s defense.

The athletic traits, ball skills, size, and upside of Caleb Farley are fascinating for the Broncos, but should they build their entire 2021 NFL Draft around him? Should they build their secondary around him?

Overall, I would say the positives outweigh the negatives in so many ways, but the presence of a more technically sound player like Surtain could give George Paton and Vic Fangio pause when it comes to pulling the trigger on Farley with the 9th overall pick.