First Take - Top Cornerbacks for the 2021 NFL Draft
With the report cards for the 2020 NFL draft completed, NFLDraftScout is turning its attention to the class of 2021, offering a quick “First Take” with rankings and perspective of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each position group.
Cornerback is one positional group which shows just how much things can change year to year in the NFL draft.
A year after just one cornerback was selected in the entire first round (Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker to the New York Giants at No. 30 overall), six wound up being selected among the top 32 in 2020. And that is including the Detroit Lions making Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah the third overall pick, tying another former Buckeye, Shawn Springs (Seattle, 1997) as the earliest a cornerback has ever been drafted.
Okudah was joined in the top 10 by C.J. Henderson (Jaguars), making it the first time in five years that two cornerbacks came off the board that quickly.
We could see a repeat of this in 2021, however, with Ohio State’s Shaun Wade and Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, each of whom showed first round caliber play a year ago as draft-ineligible sophomores.
Wade and Surtain, of course, were supported by fellow top cornerbacks Okudah, Damon Arnette and Trevon Diggs a year ago. The transition from being a quality No. 2 (or 3) corner and matching up with opponents’ top receiver game in and game out is a difficult one, and therefore, scouts are eager to see if Wade and Surtain are as up to the task as their gifts suggest.
They certainly look the part so far.
While perhaps not quite as agile as Okudah or fellow former Buckeye and top four pick Denzel Ward (Cleveland, 2018), Wade is more physical, offering more of an impact as run defender and blitzer. Both the good and bad of Wade’s aggression were clearly demonstrated in the Fiesta Bowl loss, where Wade successfully sacked Clemson’s star quarterback Trevor Lawrence, only to be ejected from the game due to targeting.
Whether one agrees with the call or not, the loss of Wade was obvious, as the Tigers came roaring back from the 16-0 second quarter deficit to qualify for their second consecutive national title game appearance (and fourth in the past five seasons).
Like Wade, Surtain signed as five-star recruit and has lived up to his billing since, standing out on a defense loaded with early NFL draft picks. The son of the three-time Pro Bowler with which he shares his name, Surtain has already forced seven turnovers in just two years at Alabama, tying Diggs (who the Cowboys stole in the second round) for the team lead with 8 passes broken up last year and finishing one behind safety Xavier McKinney (who the Giants took 36th overall) with three forced fumbles.
Longtime NFL scouts may need a yearbook to keep this year’s cornerbacks straight. Surtain is one of several legacies, including Asante Samuel, Jr. at Florida State and Al Blades, Jr. at Miami.
Given their stage and name recognition, Wade and Surtain are likely to dominate the conversation on cornerbacks among draft enthusiasts but there are lots of other exciting options, including out west with Stanford’s long-armed Paulson Adebo – who some are comparing to Richard Sherman – and a pack of Huskies at the University of Washington.
After a lean year (by their standards), Jimmy Lake’s secondary at UW once again offers future early round picks, including top-rated senior cornerback Elijah Molden (another NFL legacy) and Keith Taylor.
The Huskies should boast one of the best secondaries in college football in 2020, though a similarly gifted and even more experienced group at Georgia could have them barking as the top dawgs.
And if statistics are what you’re looking for, be sure to keep an eye on Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley (pictured), who led the ACC with 16 passes broken up (and was second in the conference with four interceptions), despite missing the final two games of the year due to injury.
Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.
The Top Five
1. *Shaun Wade 6-0, 194 Ohio State
2. *Patrick Surtain II 6-1, 203 Alabama
3. Elijah Molden 5-10, 190 Washington
4. *Caleb Farley 6-1, 207 Virginia Tech
5. *Paulson Adebo 6-1, 190 Stanford
Best of the Rest
6. Kary Vincent, Jr. 5-10, 185 LSU
7. *Asante Samuel, Jr. 5-10, 180 Florida State
8. Keith Taylor 6-2, 198 Washington
9. *Eric Stokes 6-0, 185 Georgia
10. Amby Thomas 5-11, 182 Michigan
11. *Josh Jobe 6-0, 189 Alabama
12. Thomas Graham, Jr. 5-10, 197 Oregon
13. DJ Daniel 6-0, 185 Georgia
14. *Trey Dean III 6-2, 194 Florida
15. Chase Lucas 6-0, 175 Arizona State
16. Tariq Casto-Fields 6-0, 197 Penn State
17. Jordyn Peters 6-0, 195q Auburn
18. Camry Bynum 6-0, 190 California
19. Aaron Robinson 6-0, 193 Central Florida
20. *Al Blades, Jr. 6-1, 190 Miami
Prior “First Take” Positional Previews: