NFL Draft 2021: Caleb Farley, Patrick Surtain II lead CB class


It’s almost here. The 2021 NFL Draft kicks off with Round 1 on April 29 in Cleveland. The second and third rounds will follow on April 30, with the remainder of the draft concluding on May 1.

While the event will take place in person with some NFL fans in attendance, you can tune into the live broadcasts from home on the NFL Network, ESPN and ABC on all three days.

This year’s event boasts a talented group of corners to choose from. With names like Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn, Caleb Farley and Greg Newsome II, the 2021 cornerback draft class offers teams several options to fill out their defensive backfields in the first round and beyond.

Here are a few of the top cornerbacks available in this year’s NFL draft and a couple of key questions surrounding the position.

Who is the top rated cornerback in the 2021 NFL Draft?

While there are a few notable names in this year’s cornerback draft class, Patrick Surtain II appears to be a favorite in most NFL mock drafts. Surtain has already competed against some top-tier wide receivers during his collegiate career at Alabama.

While Jaycee Horn and Caleb Farley are of similar caliber, Surtain is likely to be the first at his position off the board in Round 1.

How many cornerbacks are expected to go in the first round?

There are more than a few teams this year who could use some help stopping the pass, so expect some corners to go in the first round. Surtain, Horn, Farley and a few other names -- like Greg Newsome II or Tyson Campbell -- could hear their names called on Day 1 of the NFL Draft.

How do the top 10 cornerbacks in the 2021 class rank?

1. Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

It’s no surprise that Alabama standout Patrick Surtain II looks NFL-ready considering he is the son of a former Pro Bowler with the same name.

Surtain tallied 116 tackles, 6 for loss, 4 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles during his collegiate career. He capped off his time with the Crimson Tide by leading Alabama to a national championship and receiving first-team Associated Press All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2021.

With football in his DNA, and a proven track record as a shutdown corner, expect the 6-foot-2, 202-pound corner to be one of the first defenders off the board in Round 1. Many mocks have Surtain going to the Dallas Cowboys at No. 10, but the Philadelphia Eagles could also get their hands on him after trading down to the No. 12 overall pick.

2. Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech

After Caleb Farley opted out of the 2020 season and underwent back surgery last month, it’s understandable that NFL teams may be wary about drafting him early.

His 23 games at Virginia Tech do show that he has what it takes to play at the NFL level. Farley totaled 56 tackles and six interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown), broke up 19 passes and registered one sack over his collegiate career. The 6-foot-2, 197-pound defender received first-team All-ACC honors in 2019.

Farley has had a few promising Zoom meetings with teams -- even the San Francisco 49ers -- and recently got good news from his doctors about a return to the field, so expect someone to grab him in the first round.

3. Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

The 2021 cornerback draft class features a lot of familiar names -- including Jaycee Horn, son of four-time Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn.

Over the last two years at South Carolina, Horn led his team in pass breakups -- he tallied 9 in 2019 and 6 (including 2 interceptions) in the seven games he played of the 2020 season before opting out. Over his three seasons with the Gamecocks, Horn boasted 101 tackles in 30 games.

In addition to his collegiate career, Horn dazzled at his recent pro day. The 6-foot-¾ inch, 205-pound corner ran a 4.39 second 40-yard dash, and recorded a 41.5-inch vertical jump and 11-foot-1 broad jump. With a showing like that, expect Horn’s name to be called on Day 1.

4. Greg Newsome II, Northwestern

Newsome makes a strong case for himself against the other corners in the 2021 draft class. On plays in which he was targeted in coverage, Newsome allowed just 12 completions on 34 targets for 93 yards. While he only had one interception during his career at Northwestern, Newsome is credited with 20 pass breakups in his final 15 games.

After earning First-Team All-Big 10 honors in the shortened 2020 season and clocking a 4.38 second 40-yard dash at his pro day, Newsome could be an intriguing NFL Draft prospect for teams with questionable pass coverage.

5. Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State

Yet another top cornerback prospect with football in his genes, Asante Samuel Jr. could be an interesting option for teams who need help stopping the pass.

Samuel allowed a 46.2 passer rating in coverage last season at Florida State, which is the lowest in the 2021 NFL draft class. In 2020, Samuel tallied 30 tackles (22 solo and 1 for loss), 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 2 fumble recoveries over eight starts, earning him First-Team All-ACC honors.

Whether he goes late in Day 1 or early in Day 2, Samuel is a solid option at corner.

6. Tyson Campbell, Georgia

A five-star recruit out of high school, Tyson Campbell had a decent three-year career at Georgia. He started strong, tallying 45 tackles as a true freshman in 2018. Campbell missed some time during his sophomore season with the Bulldogs as he dealt with injury, and he struggled in 2020.

The 6-foot-1, 193-pound corner recorded 89 tackles (58 solo) during his 31 career games at Georgia. He broke up 10 passes, had 1 interception, 1 quarterback sack, and forced 1 fumble with the Bulldogs. While his inconsistency might drop him into the second round, Campbell’s size and strength show he could have a solid NFL career.

7. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse

While it’s likely that Ifeatu Melifonwu doesn’t hear his name called until Day 2 of the 2021 NFL draft, the combination of his size and speed could cause teams to jump on him earlier than expected.

At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Melifonwu clocked a 4.48 40-yard dash and recorded a 42-inch vertical jump and a 11-foot-2 broad jump at his pro day.

During his career at Syracuse, Melifonwu posted 88 tackles, 1 sack, 3 interceptions and 19 passes defended over 23 games. In 2020, Melifonwu tallied 54 tackles (3 for loss), 1 interception and 9 pass breakups during his 11 starts with the Orange, earning him third-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors.

8. Aaron Robinson, UCF

Robinson started his collegiate career as a true freshman at Alabama before transferring to UCF. After sitting out his first year with the Knights and missing much of his redshirt sophomore season due to injury, Robinson’s numbers started to take off as a redshirt junior.

In 2019, Robinson recorded 54 tackles (5.5 for loss), three interceptions and 10 pass breakups. He added 41 tackles (1 for loss) and seven pass breakups over nine starts in his 2020 season. Robinson earned second-team All-American Athletic Conference honors in both 2019 and 2020.

The 6-foot, 180-pound corner ran a 4.39 second 40-yard dash at UCF’s pro day, proving himself to be a good get for any team looking to add some athleticism to their defensive backfield. 

9. Elijah Molden, Washington

Son of first-round pick Alex Molden, Elijah Molden could garner some interest from teams in the middle rounds of this year’s draft.

After starting at Washington in 2017, Molden had a slow start to his collegiate career. Molden had a breakout season in 2019 after becoming a starter in his junior year, posting 79 tackles, 4 interceptions and 12 passes defended. After being named MVP of the 2019 Las Vegas Bowl, Molden had a solid 2020 season and ended his Huskies career with 153 total tackles, five interceptions and 19 passes defended.

Molden is 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, and ran a 4.51 second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, so his smaller size and average numbers could drop his draft stock. While Molden is likely a Day 2 pick, NBC Sports Bay Area mocked him as a possible first-rounder.

10. Tay Gowan, UCF

After some play at the junior college level and opting out of the 2020 season, Tay Gowan has just one season at UCF under his belt as he enters the 2021 NFL Draft. In 2019, Gowan recorded 31 tackles (1 for loss), 2 interceptions, 8 passes broken up and 1 fumble recovery.

At 6-foot-1 and 186 pounds, Gowan has the size to go up against top receivers. After he ran a 4.44 second 40-yard dash at his pro day, it’s clear Gowan also has the athleticism and speed to become a solid corner at the NFL level.

Kelley Ekert contributed to this story.

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