2021 NFL Draft First Rounders: Cornerbacks

One positional group an NFL franchise is always looking to improve is cornerback. The 2021 NFL Draft will be no different. You can never have too many good defensive backs. And though their impact on your fantasy football team may be limited, their on-field value is immense.

Of the 27 corners taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, it was clear that Jeff Okudah was the premium talent of the class. Let’s take a look at the Round One cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft. This draft class may fall short of last year’s Day One selections (6). Nevertheless, there are impressive college football players to choose from in 2021.

In IDP leagues, corners often fall into the late rounds. You don’t get fantasy points for forcing a quarterback to look away from his first target. If you do take a swing at a CB, a slot guy would be your best bet. These are the defensive backs that rack up more tackles than the guys on the outside.

Patrick Surtain II, Alabama

Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 203 lbs
Production: 7 passes deflected, 1 INT

Surtain has been a starting corner for the Crimson Tide since his freshman year. He pins receivers to the touchline and tracks their every move. He has impressive reactive agility, responding rapidly to the receiver’s step. Surtain has been the most effective deep ball defensive back in college football this year, and suffocates his opponent. The best wide receivers the SEC has to offer have found themselves neutralised. Against Georgia, George Pickens was limited to just 5 receptions for 53 yards, forcing Stetson Bennett to rely on running back James Cook.

Often, it seems as though Surtain hasn’t produced on field by simply looking at the stat line. The truth is often that QBs avoid throwing the ball his way. When they do, Surtain’s impressive work in press coverage has meant that younger players on the roster like Malachi Moore have benefitted from the targets that Surtain’s receiver isn’t getting. Bigger college receivers have struggled against Surtain’s size.

Critics point to his lack of speed, and many scouts will carefully watch his performance at the Combine. Don’t get me wrong – Patrick Surtain isn’t slow. Speed is simply one of his attributes that isn’t elite. If he comes up against the smaller, more slippery wideouts the NFL has to offer, he may struggle to keep the pace.

There are no sure things in the NFL Draft. A top ten draft pick is a high price to pay for any player, and comes with a hefty weight of expectation. Patrick Surtain is worth that price tag.

Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech

Height: 6’ 2”
Weight: 197 lbs
Production (2019): 12 passes deflected, 4 INTs

Caleb Farley has all the tools to shine in the NFL. His 2019 tape suggested elite traits in his game. He is a physical defender that is incredibly physical at the catch point. Not to mention, he is incredibly quick. He uses his hands to disrupt his receiver without committing interference penalties. You wouldn’t think that someone so accomplished at the position played quarterback in high school. Instead, he has an instinct for how opposing QBs think.

Farley can line up in the box, or on the outside. Two things that strikes you when you watch his tape are his length and his tackling ability. In contested catches, he has a knack for disrupting his opponent’s hands. On shorter throws, he hits his man with power.

Farley was the first Power 5 player to officially opt out of the 2020 season. At the time, it was a brave step. NFL franchises should be impressed by his courage to be the first major talent to put his family ahead of the opportunity to impress scouts in 2020.

He did suffer from back spasms throughout the 2019 season, a worrying injury that affected his entire season. It didn’t stop him putting on some excellent tape in his sophomore year. There are no suggestions that he has carried this injury into his preparation for the NFL Draft.

Farley and Surtain can be considered 1A and 1B in the 2021 NFL Draft class. Both should be top 10 picks in April.

Jaycee Horn, South Carolina

Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 205 lbs
Production: 6 passes deflected, 2 INTs

Confession time: I love Jaycee Horn’s college tape. He is a physical corner that makes his opponent fight for every blade of grass. Wide receivers have to work hard to get anything out of him.

Jaycee Horn shone on a bad Gamecocks team in 2020. As his size might suggest, he has a physical playing style that disrupts receivers. There’s no such thing as an easy week in the SEC for a corner, and Horn’s aggressive style has served him well against tough opponents.

He was used sparingly at the line of scrimmage in 2019, managing one sack. This year, he has predominantly been tasked with X receivers. Closing down the deep ball threat is paramount for an NFL Defensive Coordinator. As a result, expect Horn to be taken in the first 16 picks of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Both of Horn’s interceptions this year came against Auburn’s Bo Nix. They remain the only picks of his college football career. The first was an overthrow that was destined for the sidelines before Horn hauled it in. The second was a throw right into his midriff. Put simply, he didn’t have to work hard for them. A lack of interceptions may worry some talent evaluators as they differentiate between a deep second tier of cornerbacks. However, the ease with which he shut down Seth Williams in the game against The Tigers showcased his potential as a shutdown corner.

Shaun Wade, Ohio State

Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 195 lbs
Production: 3 passes deflected, 2 INTs

Shaun Wade has been used predominantly in the slot for The Buckeyes. Though he has seen some time on the outside this year, there isn’t a lot of tape to evaluate his ability against deep throws. When in the box, he has shadowed receivers on short routes, but also found ways to get to the quarterback. If he can prove to NFL franchises that he can be employed on the outside, his value will increase dramatically.

Wade was second fiddle to Jeff Okudah in 2019, but rose to infamy when he was ejected for an unfortunate targeting hit in last year’s playoff championship final. He thrives in the physical aspect of the game, and has racked up an impressive amount of tackles (53 in his college career). As a result, Wade will most likely be employed as a slot corner at the next level.

His poor performance against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal hurt his draft stock. Could he go back to school in order to rescue his reputation among NFL scouting units? It might be wise to enter the 2021 NFL Draft before his stock falls any lower.

Eric Stokes, Georgia

Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 185 lbs
Production: 4 passes deflected, 3 INTs

Eric Stokes was not expected to be Georgia’s most accomplished cornerback this year. However, he has surpassed teammate Tyson Campbell in 2020 with his physical style and high level route recognition. His length and size will pass muster for talent evaluators.

Stokes is particularly good in coverage, encouraging QBs to look past his opponent. Although far from the finished article, there’s enough raw talent for an NFL franchise to take the plunge at the back end of Day One.

One issue is Stokes’ play style. He hits his receiver hard, and needs to reign in his aggression. If he doesn’t, he could be a flag magnet in the NFL. With time and coaching, that can be reined in.

Derion Kendrick, Clemson

Height: 6’ 0”
Weight: 190 lbs
Production: 5 passes deflected, 1 INT

Kendrick took a big step in 2020. The former receiver first played at defensive back in 2019, but took time to refine his game. As a result, his technique is understandably still developing. He has slowly risen up draft boards as a result of his improved play this year. Naturally, his strength lies in tracking and competing for the ball. However, he can often be left behind by more complex routes. His reaction speed needs refinement.

Kendrick is a developmental talent that will intrigue NFL franchises. Don’t expect to see lots of him in his rookie year as he continues to learn his trade. He is most likely a Second Round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, but don’t be shocked if he sneaks into the First Round.

Asante Samuel Jnr, Florida State

Height: 5’ 10”
Weight: 185 lbs
Production: 6 passes deflected, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries

Asante Samuel Jnr is the smallest of the corners listed here. Any concerns over his size are allayed by his experience out wide and in the slot. He has impressive athleticism, which is evident when he sticks with receivers on deep passes. He also enjoys getting after the ball carrier after the catch, and hits harder than his size would suggest.

However, it is hard to look past his lack of size. He hasn’t been used in press coverage by The Seminoles. As a result, it is hard to imagine an NFL franchise getting value for a First Round pick. With top cornerbacks in short supply but high demand, he could well sneak into the conversation for a Day One selection.

Other names to look out for:

Tyson Campbell (Georgia)
Paulson Adebo (Stanford)
Elijah Molden (Washington)
Israel Mukuamu (South Carolina)

Fantasy GMs will pay little notice to this positional group. NFL GMs on the other hand? Totally different scenario. There are up to seven players that could be taken with a top 32 selection. Cambell, Adebo, Molden and Mukuamu are likely to go on Day Two of the 2021 NFL Draft.

The @5yardcollege team hopes to have more positional breakdowns with you in the coming weeks. By the time April comes around, you’ll have a clear idea of who you want your team to go out and get on Day One of the 2021 NFL Draft. As a fantasy team owner, your big board will be set for those rookie drafts as well.

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