What team couldn’t use another solid cornerback in the 2021 NFL draft? There should be plenty of cornerback talent selected in the first round of the upcoming draft, get to know some of the elite prospects at the position with this ranking of the top five available.
NFL draft CB targets:
1. Patrick Surtain II
Surtain II is an absolute technician at the cornerback position, and NFL draft analysts will notice. He immediately started at Alabama as a Freshman. He held up pretty well against SEC wideouts from the very beginning, but this year he took his game to the next level as Alabama’s undisputed top corner. Surtain saw 48 targets in 2020. Only 19 got completed, for 251 yards. Surtain never allowed more than 20 catches in a season in his career at Alabama, per Sports Info Solutions.
Surtain wins with his size, strength, and technique. Immediately after the ball is snapped, he can mirror the release of the wideout. He’s patient, doesn’t bite on fakes, or lunge and lose his balance. One of the most remarkable stats about Surtain heading into the NFL draft is that he rarely is called for penalties despite his physical play. Once he is in control after the release, he uses his size and strength to knock the receiver off their path or squeeze them towards the sideline. Surtain is also tall at 6 foot 2, with long strides that can eat up space and keep him stuck to the hip of his man. Surtain is tenacious at the catch point if the QB thinks there is any window and makes the throw, with 28 passes defensed and four interceptions in his career at Alabama.
If Surtain has a weakness, it’s his short-area quickness. He tested well but declined to participate in the agility drills. If he does make a rare mistake, he doesn’t quite have the recovery speed that some of the other corners in this class have. He may struggle on quick in-breaking routes against the best NFL route runners, but overall, it’s tough to poke holes in his game if you want to identify the best NFL draft prospect at this position.
2. Greg Newsome
Greg Newsome is an elite NFL draft prospect that isn’t getting the hype I feel that he deserves, so I’m giving it to him here. Newsome and Surtain are the two most technically advanced corners in this class. His feet and posture on his backpedal is the teaching tape you give to the teachers, and he does not lose contested-catch situations. Newsome was an island this season, with only seven catches allowed for 55 yards and 6 passes defensed. He hasn’t been charted with a touchdown allowed since 2018.
Newsome has the size, speed, technique, and tenacity to be an absolute pest at the next level. Despite being a bigger corner at 6’0 and 192 pounds, he’s got the most nimble feet in this NFL draft class.
The issue with Newsome that puts him below Surtain in the NFL draft pecking order is the penalties. Many of the top corners skate a thin line between perfect technique and being grabby. Too often, Newsome crosses that line and draws a flag. He’s been called 15 times in three years at Northwestern.
3. Caleb Farley
Farley is a risky NFL draft pick, but the potential reward could make it all worth it. Farley was otherworldly in 2019. Quarterbacks targeted Farley 32 times but only had nine completions. Farley batted away 13 passes of those passes and had two interceptions. It doesn’t get much better than that. But Farley opted out of the 2020 season, so there aren’t many games of elite tape.
His style of play also isn’t quite as impressive as the numbers are. He plays a little bit out of control, prone to taking false steps, and biting on double moves. But Farley possesses so much athleticism that he can make up for the ground he loses with poor technique rather easily, a big plus in the NFL draft. He played quarterback in high school and is new to the position, so it’s reasonable to assume that his style will improve and that he could turn into one of the best in the league.
The other issue with Farley is his injury history. Farley got back surgery this offseason, which is a scary thing for teams in the NFL draft. It’s not his first time undergoing back surgery either, which makes it extra scary. Back injuries will mess your career up, and some teams may not even consider him draftable. However, Farley insists that the injury won’t put his career at risk.
“It was not a reoccurring disk or anything like that,” he said. “What I had previously worked on is still intact. It was great news. I’m actually excited about this.”
4. Jaycee Horn
The top of this NFL draft cornerback class is loaded and could be ranked in any order. I like Horn a lot, and totally understand if you feel he’s ranked too low here. Horn only allowed 3.8 yards per target last season and put up some of the best testing numbers ever seen from a defensive back. Horn plays an aggressive and suffocating brand of defense that not many players can pull off.
His greatest NFL draft strength is also his greatest weakness though, as he could easily be called for holding on far too many snaps, and although his testing numbers were off the charts, he’s not the most fluid athlete on the tape. He’s a little stiff, which is why I put him behind Newsome. The negatives hurt Horn way more in 2019 than they did in 2020, though, and it’s possible that he turned a permanent corner and will be lockdown in the future. It doesn’t continue to grow and refine his technique, though, he could be a frustrating player in the league, but that goes for everyone.
5. Ifeatu Melifonwu
Ifeatu Melifonwu has an ugly backpedal and some injury history which make him a risk in the NFL draft, but the dude has some suffocating reps and checks every athletic box. Melifonwu was targeted 35 times in 2020 and allowed only 12 completions while breaking up nine and intercepting two.
Melifonwu is a project and is a tier below the top four in the 2021 NFL draft, but he’s got the length that Asante Samuel Jr doesn’t, the agility Tyson Campbell doesn’t, and the Balance Eric Stokes doesn’t. Of all the players in that “next tier” of corners, Melifonwu excites me the most.