According to several reports, the New Orleans Saints are looking to trade up in the first round of the NFL draft, which begins tonight. The Saints currently own the 28th selection in the first round and have reportedly made calls about possibly even moving into the top ten picks.
New Orleans could target a quarterback like Ohio State's Justin Fields or Trey Lance of North Dakota State with a move up. They may also covet a gamebreaking wideout to complement Michael Thomas, such as one of Alabama's talented duo of DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. One of the top two linebacker prospects like Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah of Notre Dame or Tulsa's Zaven Collins may also be targeted. The best likely bet, however, would be the cornerback position if New Orleans manages to move up.
Saints coach Sean Payton has been vocal in recent weeks about his team's need at the cornerback position. They still have one of the league's best in Marshon Lattimore, but little else at the position after the offseason release of Janoris Jenkins. Lattimore, who’s entering the last year of his contract, could also face a league suspension after a recent arrest for possession of a stolen handgun.
This appears to be a deep draft class at cornerback. Several prospects look to have starting potential well into the second day of picks. The consensus top four graded players at the position are Jaycee Horn from South Carolina, Alabama's Patrick Surtain Jr., Greg Newsome of Northwestern, and Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley. All are projected to be off the board before the Saints pick at 28.
Could New Orleans be targeting one of these top corners with a move up? Farley, arguably the top graded player at the position early in the offseason, has recently slid down some draft projections because of medical concerns. He is the subject of today's draft spotlight.
CALEB FARLEY, CORNERBACK (VIRGINIA TECH)
Farley was an all-state quarterback at Maiden (NC) High School before committing to Virginia Tech. The Hokies moved him to wideout, but those plans were derailed when he suffered a knee injury in practice that forced him to redshirt the 2017 season.
Upon his return in 2018, he was moved to cornerback, where he had 2 interceptions, broke up 7 passes, and recorded a sack among his 36 tackles. Farley led the Hokies and finished second in the ACC with 4 interceptions and 12 passes broken up in 2019. He missed the last two games with injury, but still earned 1st team ALL-ACC honors.
Farley opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns. During the offseason, he revealed that he’d been dealing with a back injury that reportedly required two surgical procedures. He is projected to be ready for training camp, but had to skip offseason workouts.
The medical issues have been the biggest concern surrounding Farley and have even dropped his draft projection in some circles. He and his agent insist that he's on track for a full recovery, but the lack of Combine and inability for teams to check out a prospect in-person further concerns.
On the field, Farley is still relatively inexperienced at the position. He played just two years at cornerback after converting from receiver and missed time with injury each season. His technique and fundamentals are both a bit raw, but should progress rapidly with experience.
Farley's lack of experience shows most in off-ball coverage, when he reacts more often than anticipating the play. He can be delayed when facing combination routes against more complex offenses. His backpedal could be smoother and needs to be quicker out of his stance. In man coverage, he can be a little tight-hipped in change-of-direction, creating an issue against quicker receivers.
Farley has a rare combination of size, strength, and athleticism for the cornerback position. His frame will allow him to battle the NFL's most physical wideouts without a disadvantage. He has the quickness and explosion to stay with the league's most athletic wideouts well down the field.
Farley has a physical jam at the line of scrimmage to knock receivers off their routes. Once he opens his hips, he has the straight-line speed to run with anyone. He perfectly times his head turns in man coverage to avoid penalties and make a play on the ball. When the throw is in the air, he plays it like a receiver and shows outstanding ball skills.
In off-ball coverage, Farley shows the instincts and physical attributes for rapid improvement. He has the long arms and fluid movement to disrupt throws in zone and a terrific closing burst on plays in front of him. His physicality in traffic makes him tough to beat near the goal line and on quick slants.
His back procedures present legitimate medical concerns. Remember that in some circles Farley was once graded as the top prospect in an extremely talented class of corners not long ago. Those who pass on Farley because of his health issues could risk passing up an All-Pro defender if he checks out medically.
Caleb Farley should have an immediate impact as a press corner with the upside to develop into a ball-hawking presence once he hones his off-ball instincts and experience. He has the size to handle the bigger receivers of the NFC South and the natural coverage skills to be one of the league's top cornerbacks in a short period of time.