If there were no medical questions about Caleb Farley, the former Virginia Tech star would be in the mix to be the first cornerback off the board Thursday night, potentially in the top 10.
But Farley has been dealing with a back injury for more than two years, leading to two surgeries since he played his last game in 2019 and leaving his draft stock as one of the biggest question marks among teams as he heads to the green room in Cleveland for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Several general managers told NFL.com this week they have no major concerns about the medical report on Farley and believe he’ll still go in Round 1. Others say they believe he’ll slide to Round 2. Some of those teams are now running through scenarios to decide: At what point in the draft would they be willing to take a calculated risk that Farley’s back problems are behind him and land a top-tier talent?
The surgeon who performed Farley’s second surgery in March, Dr. Robert Watkins, has told clubs that Farley should be cleared before training camp begins in late July. (In a letter, he wrote the procedure went well, that it was a common microdiscectomy and that it had a 16-week recovery.) And Farley’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has said he doesn’t expect his client to get out of Round 1.
“I’ve had multiple teams tell me that in the middle of the draft, they are going to draft him,” Rosenhaus told NFL.com on Monday. “I don’t expect him to make it to pick No. 20. I’m convinced, based on my discussions, that he’ll go in the first 20 picks.”
Following Virginia Tech’s pro day, which he sat out because of the second surgery, Farley said at a media conference on March 26 that he originally was injured while deadlifting in early 2019, herniating his L5 disc and bulging his S1 joint — the spinal motion segment at the base of the lumbar spine that helps transfer loads into the pelvis and legs. He battled sciatica (pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve through the hips and buttocks and down each leg) throughout his first-team all-ACC season in 2019, eventually missing the Hokies’ last two games, and underwent a discectomy in February 2020 to remove a small part of bone. He recovered and resumed training, but opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns and to prepare for the draft. Then, Farley says, he irritated the S1 joint a couple of months ago, leading to the second microdiscectomy last month. Farley still has some weakness in one of his big toes, suggesting a nerve hasn’t fully recovered since the latest procedure, but that’s normal at this stage of recovery, which is ongoing.
Ultimately, some team will take a leap of faith on an uber-talented player who also had an ACL tear in 2017 and plays a speed position. That medical profile raises short- and long-term questions, even though most teams agree Farley should be ready for the 2021 season, if not by the start of camp. It’s just hard to predict how his back will hold up over an NFL season and over the course of his career, especially since he hasn’t played a game in 17 months.
In 23 games over two seasons at Virginia Tech, Farley had six interceptions.
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