Caleb Farley fell into the Titans’ lap due to injury concerns that appear as if they will hinder his preparations to be ready in time for Week 1.
The Tennessee Titans gambled with their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, electing to select cornerback Caleb Farley despite his well-documented back problems, and there are some early signs that move could backfire.
Even after opting out of the 2020 season, Farley appeared to be a prospect with the resume of a potential top-10 pick following a stellar career at Virginia Tech in which he demonstrated the athleticism and ball skills and delivered the production to suggest he could be a star at the NFL level.
Farley registered 19 pass breakups and six interceptions in two seasons with the Hokies, yet concerns over his back, on which he underwent surgery in March, saw him fall into the Titans’ lap at pick No. 22.
At that point in the opening round, Farley could be considered worth the risk, particularly for a team whose defense has served as the primary weakness holding them back in largely successful seasons under head coach Mike Vrabel.
The Titans were 29th in Football Outsiders weighted DVOA on defense last season, finishing 30th against the pass.
Tennessee’s selection of Farley was one made with a view to fixing that problem, but there is no guarantee he will be ready in time to help them start doing so in Week 1.
Farley to miss start of camp
Jim Wyatt, a reporter for the Titans’ official website, recently wrote that it is unclear when Farley will get the go-ahead to do on-field work. According to Wyatt, Farley is not expected to be ready in time for the beginning of training camp.
The prolonged timeline for Farley to start preparing for his rookie year seemingly leaves him in a race against time to be ready for Week 1 when the Titans’ defense will face a likely stern test from the Arizona Cardinals and their explosive dual-threat quarterback Kyler Murray.
Without Farley on the field, the Titans would likely have to start 2020 second-round pick, Kristian Fulton, across from Janoris Jenkins, whom they signed as a free agent after he was cut by the New Orleans Saints. Fulton played in only six games last season and allowed a gaudy average of 13 yards per completion as a rookie, per Pro Football Reference.
Making the leap to playing in an NFL defense is a difficult adjustment for any prospect but can be even harder if they do not have adequate preparation time.
The Titans will have known the path to getting Farley on the field would not be routine when they elected to take him despite injury concerns. However, theirs is a secondary light on options at corner that could really use his upside sooner rather than later.
Already behind the 8-ball, it is questionable whether Farley will be caught up in time to face the Cardinals, and the prospect of handing him his regular-season debut in Seattle against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in Week 2 is not an enticing one.
The possible long-term dividends of the Farley pick are substantial but, in the more immediate future, if he is not in a position where the Titans feel comfortable starting him Week 1, that may exacerbate the early-season pain for an exploitable defense that has already experienced plenty of chastening days.