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Titans Not Scared Off by First-Round Pick's Injury Issues

Caleb Farley has had two back surgeries, including one this year, since he played his last college football game in 2019.
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It worked once.

For the second time in three years, the Tennessee Titans used their first-round pick to select a player on the mend from a serious surgery.

Thursday, the Titans used the 22nd pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley, who opted out of the 2020 season. Since he played his last game in 2019, he has had two of back surgeries. The latter procedure was a microdisectomy in March and was pegged for a 16-week recovery, which would have him back to full health in time for the start of training camp.

“I feel great,” Farley said. “I’m extremely excited to get to Tennessee and get on the field and get to work and to meet all my coaches. I’m ecstatic.

“… You get to a point to where you want a team to draft you that believes in you. And if you don’t believe me, then play against me.”

Most analysts saw the 6-1, 207-pound Farley as a top 10 talent. His size is what NFL teams covet at his position and his ability to match up in man-to-man coverage is uncommon, according to scouting reports. Plus, he started at Virginia Tech as a wide receiver, which gives him an edge when it comes to competing for the catch.

The situation is similar to two years ago, when Tennessee selected defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons at No. 19 overall weeks after he underwent reconstructive knee surgery. General manager Jon Robinson said Simmons – widely viewed as a top five talent – was too good to pass up at that point, and in 24 games played over since the middle of 2019, he largely has validated that mindset.

“We’ve been down this road before,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “I’m not going to compare him to what Jeffery Simmons went through. Different injuries. Different players.

“We’re confident and comfortable, and that’s why we took (Farley). We’re extremely excited.”

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A host of seemingly worthwhile options at multiple positions were still available when it became the Titans’ turn to pick this time. They included wide receiver Elijah Moore of Ole Miss, cornerback Greg Newsome II of Northwestern, edge rusher Azeez Ojulari of Georgia, tackle Teven Jenkins of Oklahoma State and defensive lineman Christian Barmore of Alabama,

Robinson and his personnel staff, though, focused on Farley, who played 23 games over two seasons for Virginia Tech during which he notched six interceptions and 25 passes defensed.

“He was a fun guy to evaluate on film,” Robinson said. “Extremely competitive. Excellent size and speed for the position that he played. Talked to several of his coaches there at Virginia Tech who raved about him as a person and his ability to learn and go out on the field and make plays for that defense there.

“He really just checked every box for us.”

Farley first sustained a herniated disc while performing a deadlift early in the 2019 season. He eventually missed the final two games of that season and had back surgery to remove a small part of the bone in 2020. He opted out of the last season to focus on his NFL future but once again hurt his back in training, which led to the second surgery, a less-invasive procedure.

His college career started with a knee injury during preseason camp that caused him to redshirt in 2017.

When he came back in 2018, he switched to cornerback and was named ACC Defensive Back of the Week after he had a sack and two interceptions in his first game, against Florida State. In 2019, his 16 passes defensed in 2019 led the ACC, and his four interceptions tied for second in the conference.

“Anytime a player has a medical condition, it’s up to the doctors and those guys to investigate that and provide us with the information,” Robinson said. “My hat goes off to those guys. They did an outstanding job of vetting out all the information and clearing (Farley) for us.

“… There were a couple guys that we were looking at [with the pick].We just felt Caleb was far and away at the top of the heap.”