For 30 of 32 NFL teams, the 2020 season is over. Front offices and coaching staves are looking ahead to the off-season and, most importantly, the 2021 NFL Draft. Many of these teams are approaching this off-season spectacle with new front office executives, new coaches, and holes at every level of the roster. The Denver Broncos, however, are carrying over the same coaching staff for the first time in many years, albeit with a new general manager in the form of George Paton. Arguably the biggest hole the team can fill in the draft is cornerback. Between three of the top names at the position in the draft, countless traits and intangibles make them quite likely to feature in the first round. If they want to fill one of their most glaring holes, they could make Caleb Farley the next Denver Broncos cornerback.
Examining Caleb Farley’s Fit as a Future Denver Broncos Cornerback
Current Cornerback Depth
The 2020 Denver Broncos secondary was expected to be the most effective secondary since the departure of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The off-season additions of A.J. Bouye and rookie Michael Ojemudia offered optimism to Broncos Country. Unfortunately, while Ojemudia put together a rather impressive rookie campaign, Bouye overwhelmingly underperformed— when he was even healthy enough to stay on the field, that is. In fact, Bouye played fewer games in 2020 (seven) than he had in any season of his career other than his rookie season. In early December, Bouye was suspended for the first six games of the 2021 season.
Bouye’s ineffectiveness and suspension, the elite play of Bryce Callahan, and the unexpected productivity of Ojemudia suggest the Broncos will part with Bouye before the 2021 NFL Draft. The remaining five corners on the depth chart are not starter-level and do not appear primed to reach starter-level. In essence, with Callahan returning as PFF’s third-ranked cornerback, Ojemudia likely taking on a full-time starting role, and the depth at the position needing considerable coaching, Bouye is expendable. The rookies and free agents the team acquires should also receive considerable playing time if the team moves on from Bouye and frees up cap space.
Of the rookie cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, three names stand out most as possible fits as future Denver Broncos cornerbacks: Caleb Farley, Jaycee Horn, and Patrick Surtain II. This installment will examine the former-most’s fit with Denver.
Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech played in 23 games in his college career before opting out of the pandemic-affected 2020 season. Through those 23 games, Farley accrued 56 tackles, 19 passes deflected, six interceptions, a sack, a tackle for loss, and a touchdown. His 2019 campaign saw twice the number of interceptions as his 2018 season and in three fewer games, no less. Beyond his numbers, Farley has an assortment of strengths and concerns for teams to parse as the draft approaches.
Standing at six feet and two inches tall and weighing around 200 pounds, Farley possesses above-average size without compromising on athleticism or hip fluidity, as most corners over six-foot-one tend to struggle with. He excels in man coverage as an athletic, sticky, and quick defensive back, but also wields the ball skills, closing speed, and quickness to play in zone schemes. If he receives the kind of coaching that helped Michael Ojemudia develop into a starter last year, he could thrive in a zone-based scheme like Denver’s.
While his hips can be a bit stiff at times, he has considerably more fluid hips and core movement than the majority of corners at his height or taller. He moves like a quicker, smaller corner who predominantly plays in the slot, but plays with his frame the way pro corners like Antonio Cromartie have.
Additionally, Farley has impressive ball skills. He refuses to let the ball come to him, attacking the ball and ball-carrier at the high point and head-on, respectively. Farley also argues it’s his mental acuity that will make him an elite corner, not merely his physical attributes (which are impressive nonetheless). A physically proactive defender, the impending rookie should offer an immediate upgrade to teams looking to bolster their secondary with athleticism, youth, and high football I.Q.
Refining his techniques in zone coverage would likely be Vic Fangio’s first step in developing Farley should Denver draft him this off-season. Ojemudia had been projected to not reach starter-level until his second or third season, but the coaching of Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell helped him reach this level as a rookie.
Farley is arguably the superior athlete in countless ways, meaning this same brand of coaching could truly turn Farley into a star defensive back in Denver. That said, Farley also needs to refine his tackling skills. Reasonably, he could improve on this through working with sure tacklers like Justin Simmons.
Concerns also exist in terms of his health and longevity. Farley opted out of the 2020 season, meaning he has not played since his breakout 2019 campaign. Taking the season off could help assuage some of his injury concerns, but will inevitably create lasting concerns about rust, lack of repetitions, and being in football shape. These concerns will last until Farley alleviates them with a successful Pro Day or through an impressive showing in off-season team activities.
Farley: Future Denver Broncos Cornerback
Farley is expected to fall a bit because of the uncertainty surrounding his injury history at Virginia Tech. This means Denver could ostensibly trade down in the first round and still acquire the long, athletic, and potentially game-changing corner later than ninth overall. He projects as an outside corner with the versatility to play in virtually any scheme. Despite his versatility, Farley would likely excel best in a dynamic scheme with variety in design and individual responsibility. Behind his bear fronts, Fangio’s creativity in the secondary makes Farley a perfect fit as a future Denver Broncos cornerback. The questions and concerns may remain prevalent through the draft process, but the positives in Farley’s game far outweigh the negatives.
The Last Word
Half of a decade since the No Fly Zone’s Super Bowl-winning season and cornerback is once again a position of need. Recent attempts to fill this hole on the defense have been nearly as disappointing as the similarly ineffectual efforts to find a franchise quarterback. While Bryce Callahan’s 2020 was incredible and suggests a jump in 2021, he did not play a snap his first year after signing as a free agent. A.J. Bouye’s best days are clearly behind him and he likely will not finish his time in Denver as anything more than a half-season rental.
The 2021 NFL Draft offers Denver the chance to continue building Vic Fangio’s vision for his defense. With the help of the team’s new general manager, Fangio should be able to acquire an athletic corner in the class of ‘21. Taking into account all of the aforementioned contributing factors, it is not unreasonable to consider Caleb Farley the best fit for Denver out of any corner in the draft.
If Caleb Farley is the first-round pick to become the next Denver Broncos cornerback, the secondary will have a legitimate chance to recapture the glory of 2015’s No Fly Zone.
But is he in Denver’s future at the position?
Only time will tell.
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