With a season of uncertainty ahead for college football, Virginia Tech cornerback and likely first-rounder Caleb Farley announced Wednesday that he was sitting out the 2020 season and preparing for the 2021 NFL draft.
The decision, as seen in Farley's Instagram video, was painful and emotional. No player wants to be seen as quitting on their team or putting themselves first. But with the NCAA still not providing clear plans for what a season looks like as the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the country and has left over 150,000 Americans dead, Farley's choice to prioritize the health of himself and his family is admirable.
It will also open the floodgates, as more top players must decide if a shortened, unorganized 2020 college season is worth playing.
Farley was the first. He won't be the last. And NFL teams are already excited about the talent he brings to the table.
Knowing what NFL teams want in a cornerback and identifying which teams are weak at the position on paper heading into the season, there are clear-cut fits for Farley as the potential top cornerback in the upcoming 2021 draft class.
There is plenty to get excited about when evaluating Farley. I asked an NFL personnel director for his first thoughts on the 6'2", 207-pound junior cornerback, and he replied, "long, fast, fluid"—three keys when scouting a cornerback for the NFL.
Farley is indeed long, fast and fluid. His 6'2" frame is ideal for man coverage, but he backs that up with exceptional speed, having been clocked at over 24 mph last season by the Virginia Tech coaching staff. For comparison, Tyreek Hill's top speed was clocked at 22.81 mph in December.
If Farley is legitimately running more than 1 mph faster than Hill at 6'2" and 207 pounds, NFL scouts will be picking their jaws up off the floor at his combine workout.
It isn't just his athleticism, though. Farley is a battle-tested playmaker coming out of an ACC conference loaded with elite wide receivers. His 16 pass breakups and four interceptions last year point to a player with the vision, length and reaction speed to close on routes and make big plays.
"When we watched him, our guys were jumping out of their seats. He's really, really good," one AFC area scout said. Asked to compare him to last year's cornerback group, the same scout said: "He would have been CB2—behind [Jeff] Okudah, but we would have put him ahead of [C.J.] Henderson."
The biggest question mark for Farley moving forward is the back surgery he underwent after the season, but even that can be spun into a positive given his extended time away from the field following the decision to not participate in the upcoming season. It'll be something to watch at the NFL Scouting Combine, but right now, Farley is the clear-cut CB1 on my list.
Where does a 6'2" cornerback with elite speed fit? Everywhere is the right answer, but the following teams will likely be drafting in the top 15 or have the draft capital to get into the top 15 to acquire a potential shutdown corner.
New York Jets
Loaded with draft capital and a need at cornerback, the Jets are in prime position to land Farley either with their own pick or the extra picks they acquired from the Seattle Seahawks for Jamal Adams.
It remains to be seen what type of cornerback this defensive scheme prefers—or if these coaches will be in place following the season—but Farley's length and speed make him scheme-proof. His height, length and speed are ideal whether he's asked to lock up defenders at the line of scrimmage or play in zone coverage.
The Colts traded their 2020 first-rounder to acquire star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner from the San Francisco 49ers, but they may look to load up the secondary in 2021. Depending on how new starting quarterback Philip Rivers fares this season, the Colts could be out of the running for Farley, but they are an ideal match for his blend of size and speed.
"[Colts general manager Chris] Ballard loves those guys," said one area scout who used to work with him. "No doubt he could see someone with Marcus Peters' physical skills without the rough edges."
Trading away Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye has left the Jacksonville Jaguars thin at cornerback. However, they'll likely focus on the upcoming quarterback class unless Gardner Minshew II proves himself worthy as the starter this year.
If the Jaguars win enough games to be drafting in the 10-15 range instead of the top five, Farley's height/length/speed are ideal for their defensive scheme. It might seem unrealistic to think Jacksonville—a team that scouts jokingly say is already tanking—will be drafting in a position to bypass a quarterback, but the NFL remains unpredictable.
As the Cardinals begin to think about life after Patrick Peterson, the front office could look at the similar build and athleticism of Farley and find an on-paper replacement for the future Hall of Famer.
Those expectations might seem unfair to a cornerback who played only two years of college football, but NFL scouts are as high on Farley as I have seen them be on a cornerback before his junior season in quite some time.
The talent is there for him to be the first defensive back off the board in the 2021 NFL draft.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.