Projected first round pick opts to sit out 2020, enter 2021 NFL draft

Rob Rang

On the same day that the ACC announced its plans to hold a full conference schedule this fall, Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley instead opted out, declaring through a video his plans to take the bold step of skipping an entire year of college football to prepare for next spring’s NFL draft.

“I am opting out due to uncertain health conditions and regulations and all of the other opt-outs going on in football right now, Farley says in a video sent to ESPN and distributed on social media by their top NFL reporter Adam Schefter.

The 6-1, 207 pound redshirt junior is coming off of a First Team All-ACC campaign in which he led the conference with 16 passes defensed (and finished second in the league with four interceptions) despite missing the final two games of the year with back spasms.

Prior to last year’s breakout, however, Farley endured more than his share of challenges, switching positions twice (from quarterback to wide receiver to cornerback) since joining the Hokies, missing virtually all of the 2017 season with a torn ACL and losing his mother, Robin, to a decade-long battle with cancer.

He emerged as one of Virginia Tech’s best (and most inspirational) players the year previous, registering 36 tackles, seven passes broken up and two interceptions while playing in all 13 games in 2018.

Farley is the top NFL prospect on Virginia Tech’s roster. His loss is a significant blow to a Virginia Tech program which has qualified for bowl games each of head coach Justin Fuente’s four years in town but has dropped the past three straight, finishing last year at 8-5 and outside the AP’s Top 25. It does help that the Hokies return a talented defense, with fellow NFL prospect Divine Deablo returning at safety. 

Farley could be competing for a different Top 25 this spring, however, possessing a combination of size, athleticism, ball-skills and intangibles that could result in a first round selection next spring. He is a savvy defender, whose experience playing offense helps him generate big plays, earning a comparison to a multi-year Pro Bowler in my official scouting report.

Still, sitting out an entire season is a bold decision, especially when cornerback appears to be one of the more competitive and talented positions likely to be available to NFL teams next spring.

The 2021 NFL draft, remember, remains very much on schedule even if the Covid-19 pandemic forces the NCAA to skip the college football season entirely.

Farley currently ranks fourth on NFLDraftScout.com’s board for cornerbacks potentially eligible for the 2021 draft, behind only fellow underclassmen in Ohio State’s Shaun Wade and Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, as well as Washington’s Elijah Molden, the top-rated senior.

His decision to opt out despite playing in “just” 23 college games could have other players with similar (or more) quality tape wondering if the risk outweighs the potential reward of playing during these unprecedented times. 

While bold, this isn't a surprising decision. In fact, two-time national champion head coach and current FOX college football analyst Urban Meyer recommended that star players skip the season and head to the draft last. 

Now that Farley has walked through the door Meyer (and others) suggested, it remains to be seen how many others will join him. 

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