Pick Six: Corner In Store For Birds At Sixth Overall?
After years of insufficient play at the cornerback position, the Eagles confront an opportune time to come away with a potential building block in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The moment Jonathan Gannon was hired as the team’s new defensive coordinator under Nick Sirianni, I not only expected the secondary to undergo a major facelift, but to also take on an entirely new identity. Gannon, regarded as a defensive back whisperer, has a longstanding history of fielding tough, physical, fundamentally sound backend players who emphasize takeaways.
The Eagles are in dire need of playmakers on both sides, but given Gannon’s background it wouldn’t surprise me to see the defensive backfield addressed early. Here are three first-round cornerbacks who will hear their name called on opening night.
Were it not for a non-contact ACL injury in 2017 or the lingering back injury that ultimately sidelined him for two games in 2019, Caleb Farley is likely the consensus No. 1 cornerback prospect on draft boards.
Farley, of course, was among the first of several prominent draft prospects to opt out of the 2020 season. As brief as Farley’s collegiate tape might be, the former Hokie established himself as a heady playmaker in his 23 games by accumulating 56 tackles, 19 passes defended, six interceptions (1 TD), and a sack.
At 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, Farley fits the mold of lengthy, physical perimeter defender that Gannon had success with in Minnesota and Indianapolis.
Though his measurements are more commonly associated with the safety position, Farley – a former wide receiver – possesses the fluidity and ball skills to thrive in any system. Unlike many cornerbacks of his makeup who can be exploited downfield, Farley boasts the quickness and change of direction to cover receivers of all shapes and sizes.
While injury concerns and a relatively abbreviated college career will assuredly scare some teams off, the tale of the tape indicates that Farley’s diverse skill-set figures to translate to the pro-level. Farley not only projects to be a shutdown defender at the next level but also an astute playmaker with a nose for the football.
Patrick Surtain II
Surtain, who appeared in 40 games with the Alabama Crimson Tide, provides a wealth of experience and plays with a mean streak. Tasked with slowing some of the premier offensive weapons in college football, Surtain was firmly entrenched as a top prospect long before the commencement of the 2020 season.
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound defender registered 116 tackles (6.0 for loss), 24 passes defended, four interceptions, four forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery over his three-year career.
Like Farley, Surtain sports the prototypical frame for a perimeter defender in Gannon’s defense. He typically trusts his technique, rarely panics, and consistently locates the football. Known for his physicality, Surtain challenges receivers at the catch point and his extensive wingspan narrows throwing windows, making ball placement paramount for opposing quarterbacks. He also can play in man or zone-based schemes.
Surtain relies on technique and footwork, but his lack of long speed will be a highly-scrutinized facet of his game throughout the pre-draft process. Also, his 24 career pass breakups indicate Surtain’s ability to locate and close on the ball, but he’ll need to convert those into takeaways at the next level.
Given the team’s longstanding history with injuries, Surtain feels like the most logical selection on defense if they hold firm at No. 6.
Should the Eagles opt to trade down in the first round, South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn becomes a plausible option.
A common theme amongst blue-chip cornerback prospects in this class, Horn – 6-foot-1, 205 pounds – has the build and length teams covet. Though not quite as polished as the first two players on this list at this stage, Horn quickly catapulted up my cornerback rankings following an impressive seven games before opting out to focus on draft preparation.
Horn, who began his college career in the slot for the Gamecocks before moving to the perimeter the past two seasons, provides positional versatility, though it’s evident he best projects as an outside cornerback at the next level. But more intriguing is that Horn continues to progress each season and hasn’t come close to scratching the surface of his capabilities. He plays with an alpha mentality and will fight the receiver through the catch. His short-area quickness and change of direction are also positives. For sustained success at the pro level, however, Horn must learn to play with more discipline; he can be a bit grabby at times and will overly rely on his athleticism to mask his mistakes.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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