It may be a deep cornerback class, but let’s be real: The hype sits squarely on Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn and Caleb Farley.
And with the Arizona Cardinals in need of another cornerback, it’s certainly possible they nab one of the top three CBs at No. 16 if available.
Many of this offseason’s mock drafts have one of the three heading to Arizona in the middle of the first round, with the team’s lack of depth and Patrick Peterson’s departure to Minnesota main sticking points.
Given their talent and Arizona’s spot in the pecking order, it’s no surprise Cardinals GM Steve Keim did his due diligence in evaluating the trio.
“I do think that it’s a deep corner draft, and once again, pick your poison,” Keim said Thursday. “These guys are all a little different. … They’re guys that can be nickels, nickel only. To me, the nickel position is getting harder and harder to find. I think at one time that was a secondary thought. But the way teams are playing schematically in the NFL, the nickel position is as important as ever.”
“For us to have a guy like Byron Murphy, who can play inside and outside, it gives us tremendous value. But there are guys who can play inside and outside in this draft, some guys that can only play outside with their length and their movement skills. So really feel good about that position and the opportunities that may present themselves but those top three are very, very good.”
Not lost on Keim was the fact that two of the three corners are sons of former NFLers.
Horn is son of former wide receiver Joe Horn, who played for Kansas City Chiefs (1996-99), New Orleans Saints (2000-06) and Atlanta Falcons (2007). Surtain’s father Patrick was a cornerback for the Chiefs (2005-08) and Miami Dolphins (1998-2004). Between the two, Horn (4) and Surtain (3) accounted for seven Pro Bowls.
That NFL pedigree was on full display in Keim’s evaluation of the young cornerback duo.
“The bloodlines that they come from are obviously very, very good, which shows up in their competiveness, the way they play the game, the way they approach the game. They’ve been very, very impressive to evaluate this spring,” Keim said.
Of the two, Surtain is considered the top CB in the draft. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound cornerback recorded 37 tackles, an interception (returned for a touchdown) and nine passes defensed in 13 games for Alabama last season. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts.
Horn played in seven contests, registering 16 tackles, two picks and six pass deflections for South Carolina in 2020.
And as if they weren’t already at the top of their class, Horn and Surtain boosted their already high draft stocks with impressive pro days, almost certainly solidifying their spots in the first round.
Looking at where they might land, ESPN’s Mel Kiper had Horn going to Arizona in the first round of his latest mock draft.
Kiper explained in March why Horn would be such a good fit for the Cardinals, noting the increase of great, young quarterbacks and why corner is the right position to target early on.
“It puts them in a position where they get a cover guy who I think can be an immediate hole filler, immediate standout,” Kiper told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf. “I think that’s what this leagues all about now. It’s not waiting a couple years, it’s who can come right in. Son of Joe Horn, has the length, has the ball skills, anticipates well.
“Does all the things you want for a guy who can come right in and help you in that secondary. … There’s a lot of positivity on Horn right now, there’s a feeling he won’t get past say the 22-23 point in the first round. … He’ll go in the first round, it’s just a question of how high.”
Horn’s physical nature and tackling ability, something Kiper highlighted, is something the Cardinals could use in the secondary.
As for the third cornerback mentioned by Keim, Farley brings with him talent along with a few question marks.
Farley, who made the transition from wide receiver to cornerback in 2018, does not have any recent film Keim can run through after opting out of both the 2020 season and Virginia Tech’s pro day. He also underwent an outpatient surgery in late March to clean up discs in his back.
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the cornerback was told by team doctors and trainers that he was doing well physically in terms of his back and should still be a first-rounder.
“As far as medical goes, it’s going to be up to our doctors and trainers. You have to lean on those guys and rely on them,” Keim said. “I’ll meet with those guys early next week and we’ll address all of those concerns.
“But as a player, hasn’t even scratched the surface yet. Has tremendous upside and potential for a guy who is as long as he is. He has tremendous stop and start ability and really is as sudden in transition as any corner in this draft. He’s got a bright future.”
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound corner reeled in six interceptions and 19 passes defensed over the two seasons prior to 2020.
Aside from his injury history, Kiper has some red flags regarding Farley’s tackling ability.
“He’s got the size, he’s a former wide receiver. He played really well in 2019 as a cover corner. Ball skills down the field, locating the ball down the field and plays behind him. He’s good in front, he’s good behind,” Kiper said. “What he doesn’t do is tackle well enough. I thought this was the year he needed to toughen up and tackle better and he opted out. He was one of the first major opt outs of all the college players.
“He would be the one I think you would be a little concerned with as far as the physicality of the tackling and things like that. [Surtain and Horn] are in pretty good shape.”