We are in the final home stretch before the start of the 2021 NFL Draft, and my final position rankings come down to the secondary. After finishing up the EDGE rushers and linebackers, the versatile cover men are up next.
Take a look below as I display my top-10 at both the safety and cornerback positions for the 2021 NFL Draft. These are two deep and talented groups that may be the most important players available when it comes to shutting down today’s offensive attacks.
2021 NFL Draft Cornerbacks
1. Patrick Surtain II – Alabama
The best defensive player in the 2021 NFL Draft and legitimate top-5 talent, Patrick Surtain II is the total package as a prospect in the defensive secondary. A starter since his true freshman season in Tuscaloosa, Surtain II has made impact plays and provided consistently outside from day one, and will do that at the next level too. He will be selected in the top-10 on Thursday Night of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Surtain II has the ideal size for the position and will start right away on the boundary for any NFL team. As a son of a former NFL great, Surtain II has the bloodlines and smarts that make him a sure bet as an NFL prospect. Surtain II also showed off his athleticism at Alabama’s Pro Day, running a 4.42 forty-yard dash. As a player with experience at outside corner, nickel and safety, there is no shortage of ways Surtain II can help an NFL team in 2021.
2. Jaycee Horn – South Carolina
If not for Surtain II, Horn would be a cinch top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, he comes in ranked number two at the CB position but should find a home in the top-15. Horn is a long, boundary corner with great instincts and ball skills that will start right away. He teamed with fellow prospect Israel Mukuamu to form one of the best CB tandems in the SEC and all of college football in 2020.
He’s a potential lockdown corner at the next level that can shadow the opposing team’s best receiver all around the field. He does a fantastic job staying in the pocket of the receiver and rarely gives up inside positioning. Horn has everything you look for at the cornerback position and will be an impact player for years in the NFL.
3. Caleb Farley – Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley is a bit of an unknown as a high-level NFL prospect for the 2021 NFL Draft. He has elite athleticism but struggles with consistency outside and did not play the full season for the Hokies in 2020. Based on his ability alone, Farley should be a top 25 pick.
He has some bad tape and plays too sloppy at times for a player of his stature and capability. However, there is a confidence that Farley displays that should not go overlooked. He has good ball skills and a penchant for the big play, which could translate into early success at the pro level.
4. Eric Stokes – Georgia
The Georgia Bulldogs have some elite defensive talent available in the 2021 NFL Draft with guys like Stokes, fellow CB Tyson Campbell, and EDGE rusher Azeez Ojulari. Stokes is an extremely quick and speedy prospect that deserves to be mentioned with the top cornerbacks of this class.
Stokes shocked onlookers with an unofficial 4.25 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, which should lock him into the top 50. And with four interceptions this past season, Stokes’ playmaking ability has a good chance to sneak into the end of the first round.
5. Greg Newsome – Northwestern
Newsome is another top CB prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft with ideal size and athleticism for the position. Like Stokes, Newsome has a good shot to sneak into the first round due to an overwhelming need for good cover men in the NFL today.
The talented cover man for the Wildcats is a smart player with great agility that isn’t afraid to make tough tackles. He is aggressive and could fit in nicely with multiple defensive schemes. However, he will have to prove he can stay healthy to remain on the field going forward.
6. Asante Samuel Jr. – FSU
One of the few bright spots for the Seminoles this past season, Asante Samuel Jr made his dad proud and made a ton of plays for FSU. A tad undersized at 5’9”, Samuel always appears ready for the challenge and is a feisty competitor on the boundary. While his size may push him inside to the nickel in the NFL, Samuel Jr has the experience and ability to stick outside in the right scheme.
Asante Samuel Sr was an interception machine for the Patriots and Eagles, and those ball skills have carried over to his son. Samuel will create turnovers in the NFL with his smarts and quickness. He is a potential early-to-late second-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
7. Ifeatu Melifonwu – Syracuse
If this name sounds familiar, it is because Melifonwu’s brother Obi was a former second-round pick of the New England Patriots. Ifeatu has a similar size and looks like another great secondary prospect that could fit well at both safety and cornerback in the NFL.
At 6–foot-3, the younger Melifonwu could be a chess piece-type of a player for his next defensive coordinator. With the need for strong and athletic players to match up against both tight ends and slot receivers, Melifonwu should hear his name called fairly early on Draft Day.
8. Aaron Robinson – UCF
UCF’s Aaron Robinson is another player on the cusp of the 2021 NFL Draft’s first round. At 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, he is ideally suited for the boundary cornerback position in the NFL. Robinson greatly improved his stock with a sub 4.4 forty-yard dash at UCF’s Pro Day.
A former transfer from Alabama, Robinson has experience at outside cornerback and the nickel spot. That versatility will help Robinson as he begins his NFL journey. His agility and speed are a plus, but he will need to be more disciplined to make plays consistently in the pros.
9. Kelvin Joseph – Kentucky
Joseph is a forgotten man in the CB hierarchy of the SEC conference and 2021 NFL Draft prospect elites. However, the feisty Wildcat cornerback is a playmaker that should not go overlooked much longer.
Despite opting out of the final two games, Joseph made a sizable impact with four interceptions in 2020. He has a great build and will compete for all 60 minutes at the next level. Joseph also has some experience on Special Teams and will be an asset that is likely chosen in the middle to the late second round.
10. Paulson Adebo – Stanford
Stanford’s Paulson Adebo has been on the NFL radar for the past two seasons and appears headed for the second day of the 2021 NFL Draft. Adebo toyed with the idea of entering the 2020 NFL Draft before returning for his senior season at Stanford. He was a star during his first season as a starter in 2018 but has regressed since.
Adebo has all the tools to be a legitimate starter at the NFL level but will need to be more consistent and cut out some of the mental lapses that plague him. His length and upside will earn him starting opportunities as a potential top-75 pick.
2021 NFL Draft Safeties
1. Jevon Holland – Oregon
The perfect player to combat the current state of NFL offenses, Holland is a fringe first-rounder that plays the hybrid safety/nickel cornerback role to a tee. Despite opting out in 2020, I believe Holland has shown enough at the college level to warrant a late first-round selection.
Holland played sparingly until the 2019 season when he finally showed a full range of his potential at the next level. A Minkah Fitzpatrick-clone as a professional prospect, Holland can step into a multitude of roles right away in the NFL and become a real difference-maker.
2. Trevon Moehrig – TCU
The 2020 Thorpe Award winner for the best defensive back in college football, Moerhig is perhaps the biggest defensive playmaker in the 2021 NFL Draft. He amassed seven interceptions in 2019, before coming back to win the top DB award in 2020.
He has the size to make plays close to the line of scrimmage with the range to away the back half of the field. The TCU secondary was one of the tops in the nation this past season and could have multiple players drafted early. Moehrig is the best of the bunch and should hear his name before the end of Round 1.
3. Hamsah Nasirildeen – FSU
One of the biggest disappointments of the 2020 season was the inability of Nasirildeen to get onto the field for the Florida State Seminoles. Despite opting to return to school for the 2020 season, the ultra-talented S/LB hybrid could not stay healthy.
Nasirildeen has the talent to be the best defensive back in this 2021 NFL Draft but will need to stay on the field to prove his worth. In the age of versatility in the NFL, Nasirildeen could make a lasting impression at the next level. He is a poor man’s version of Isaiah Simmons with the capability to play either in the front seven or in the secondary.
4. Andre Cisco – Syracuse
Just like Moehrig of TCU, Cisco’s true calling card in the 2021 NFL Draft is his ability to generate turnovers. He has done that at an elite clip the past few seasons and should be taken early because of that playmaking from the safety position.
Cisco has 13 interceptions in 24 career games with the Orange and has the athleticism to recover quickly when beaten on a play. That recovery speed will help some mental lapses that occur on occasion. He has the look of an early third-round selection.
5. Richie Grant – UCF
Despite recording 72 total tackles and three interceptions in his final season at UCF, I am not as high on Grant as some of the other experts. He lacks the size and range of some of the players above him on this list, and his projection here reflects that.
He will probably come off the board sometime in the middle to the late second round, but I believe he is better suited for a zone defensive scheme in the next level. Grant is a twitchy player and great tackler, but he is quicker than fast and does not offer the same upside as other safeties in this class.
6. Jamar Johnson – Indiana
Jamar Johnson of Indiana is another versatile safety with experience at both cornerback and safety in this 2021 NFL Draft. He has good size and could fit almost anywhere in the defensive secondary. Add in that he’s picked off top prospect Justin Fields twice in his career, and Johnson is a proven player with the stats to match.
Johnson is an intelligent player that will drafted in the range of the 3rd to 4th round after the initial group of elite safety prospects. However, he is a great prospect in his own right that compares favorably to some of the better hybrid players at his position in the NFL.
7. Ar’Darius Washington – TCU
The second half of the tremendous safety tandem for the Horned Frogs in 2020, Ar’Darius Washington is an outstanding mid-round prospect at safety. Like Grant, Washington is a tad undersized but is a smart player and an excellent tackle on the back end.
Washington offers the ability to line up at nickel or safety at the next level, but his size will always be a concern. If he can hold up against NFL offenses and continue to take good angles to the ball, Washington can be a very useful chess piece of a player.
8. Caden Sterns – Texas
Caden Sterns is another talented Longhorns’ safety looking to follow in the footsteps of fellow draftees such as Brandon Jones, Earl Thomas, and Michael Griffin. He stepped into a leadership role this past season after the departure of Jones and became an all-conference selection.
Sterns is a big safety that misses easy tackles and takes bad angles at times. However, he can make timely plays in the secondary due to his length and speed. If he can cut down on the mental mistakes and play with more consistency, he will be a much better player as a pro than he was in college.
9. Divine Deablo – Virginia Tech
Divine Deablo is another big and intimidating safety prospect from Virginia Tech in the mold of players like Kam Chancellor and Aaron Rouse. At 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds with 33-inch arms, Deablo has the size and range to make plays all over the field.
As a former receiver, Deablo is still a bit raw at the position and it shows with his overaggressive nature and occasional missed assignments. If he can improve on those areas, he will outperform his 2021 NFL Draft position considerably.
10. JaCoby Stevens – LSU
One of the few returning starters from LSU’s juggernaut National Championship team in 2019, Stevens made a name for himself in 2020. He is a big safety with surprising quickness but lacks the ball skills to be an elite player at the safety position.
Stevens may be ticketed for a weakside linebacker role at the next level due to his athletic deficiencies. He is a well-coached and smart player with tons of experience, but probably won’t be selected until the end of Round 5 at the earliest.