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If Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley is there for Saints in NFL draft, can they afford to pass? | Saints

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The last few months must have been quite the roller coaster for former Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley.

As the NFL started turning its attention toward the draft, many had Farley pegged as either the first or second corner off the board, potentially as high as a top-10 pick. Then he did not participate in his pro day — an important event for him after he opted out of the 2020 season — because he needed back surgery, and there were questions about whether he’d be ready for 2021.

Farley’s stock started to slip in the eyes of those whose job it is to analyze the draft and its prospects. Suddenly Farley was viewed as a late-first, early-second round prospect.

Then Farley’s pre-draft medical evaluation in Indianapolis reportedly showed he should be ready to participate in training camp, and Farley appears to once again be a prospect on the rise.

If he is healthy, he has the potential to be one of this draft’s best defensive players.

Get to know the Virginia Tech prospect here.

Measureables

Numbers are from Farley’s pro day. He did not work out on account of his injury

  • Height: 6-2
  • Weight: 197
  • 40-yard dash: DNP
  • Vertical leap: DNP
  • Three-cone drill: DNP
  • Bench press: DNP

The Saints have a need at corner. Does Northwestern’s Greg Newsome II fit the bill?

What does he bring to the table?

He is a big, physical corner who excels in press-man coverage, plays with swagger and has a nose for the football. In that regard, Farley looks a lot like a younger Marshon Lattimore.

Farley signed with Virginia Tech as a quarterback who expected to play some at the offensive skill positions. But he suffered a season-ending injury in his freshman season, and when he finally made his debut with the Hokies, he’d switched sides of the ball.

The 2018 season marked the first time in Farley’s life he played corner, and he acquitted himself well: He intercepted two passes in his first ever game at corner, and finished his redshirt freshman season with nine pass breakups in 12 starts.

Farley took off in 2019, making the All-ACC first team at corner after picking off four passes and breaking up 16. According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks had a 26.8 passer rating when targeting Farley in 2019 (a fact they colorfully illustrated by saying passers would have literally had a better rating by spiking the ball into the dirt on every play)

Farley was one of the first players to opt out of the 2020 college season (he did so last July). His mother died as a result of breast cancer in 2017, and when he announced his intent to sit out the 2020 season, Farley said “I cannot afford to lose another parent or loved one.”

Why he fits in New Orleans

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It’s pretty fun imagining the Saints countering the dangerous receiver corps across the NFC South with a pair of in-your-face man cover corners like Farley and Marshon Lattimore.

Farley is one of the rare big-bodied corners who moves like smaller players. NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah had this to say about Farley in a conference call with reporters earlier this week: “ If you are comfortable with him medically — he was like my fifth or sixth (ranked) player in the draft. He’s a freak show. I was around (three-time NFL Pro Bowl corner) Chris McAlister. That’s who he reminded me of, so he is a big-time, big time-talent.”

Once the ball is in the air, Farley’s history as an offensive skill player becomes pretty evident, finding the ball and looking like a receiver as he goes up to compete for it.

There’s not much not to like in Farley’s game, especially as it would potentially fit within the Saints’ defensive framework.

Why he doesn’t fit

The only questions the Saints would need to answer about him are related to his injury history and his opt out.

Are the Saints (or, for that matter, other NFL teams) comfortable with a player who tore an ACL in 2017 and has had lingering back issues that resulted in surgery this March? Farley has been adamant he’ll be ready for training camp, the independent medical evaluation reportedly said the same. Will NFL teams trust that word if it’s not coming from their own doctors?

Opting out could make things hazy, too. Farley only played in 24 games as a college football player, and the last one was November 23, 2019. The team that selects him in the draft next week will be taking a player who has not played a game in more than 500 days.

Farley doesn’t seem too worried.

“I accepted my draft invite, so I’ll be in Cleveland,” Farley said at his pro day. “If a team wants the best corner in the draft, they’ll come find me.”

Saints beat writer mock draft 3.0: Greg Newsome the easy pick, but at 60? Time to add a weapon

Fun fact

Farley was once a dynamic high school quarterback. He put up video game numbers in his senior season at Maiden High School in North Carolina, throwing for 1,771 yards, rushing for 2,574 yards and racking up 58 touchdowns (37 rushing, 21 passing) — the third highest single-season total in North Carolina prep history.

Quotable

When asked at his pro day what sort of scheme he would want to play in at the NFL level, this is how Farley responded: “I would love a coach to come to me and say, ‘Take out this team’s best wide receiver this week. If he goes for 150 receiving yards, it’s on you.’ I would love that.”

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