Caleb Farley believes back injury a non-issue with draft nearing

Virginia Tech defensive back Caleb Farley reacts after intercepting a pass intended against the Miami Hurricanes Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP)
Virginia Tech defensive back Caleb Farley reacts after intercepting a pass intended against the Miami Hurricanes Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Caleb Farley chose to remain positive with what could be a negative situation.

A few days before Virginia Tech’s pro day on March 26, Farley underwent a back procedure to clear up a previous injury. As a result, Farley wasn’t able to take part in the pro day drills that, in normal years, he’d do at the NFL scouting combine.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional scouting combine was canceled, leaving prospects to make their final impressions to NFL teams at their respective pro days. In a last-minute scenario, Farley had to pull out of his, leaving him unable to show why he should be considered among the top cornerback prospects in this year’s draft.

“I truly try to find a way where I’m not bitter about the situation or frustrated because it’s out of my control,” Farley said. “I’ve enjoyed watching my teammates compete and the whole camaraderie of the weight room and teams coming together.”

However, the missed opportunity is one that could give NFL teams some hesitancy when it comes to drafting Farley.

Due to concerns stemming from the coronavirus, Farley chose to opt out of the 2020 season. For some players, skipping the football season, especially if they didn’t have enough game film from prior years, may have left an incomplete picture for NFL scouts.

Farley wasn’t among those prospects.

In 2019, Farley, 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, recorded 12 pass deflections and four interceptions -- with one pick returned for a touchdown. That campaign established him among the best in college football.

Before Virginia Tech’s pro day, NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah ranked Farley his top cornerback and fifth overall prospect. In a February conference call, Jeremiah said Farley edged Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II since he was better in “short-area quickness.”

With the pro day circuit coming to a close, Jeremiah has since adjusted his rankings. Surtain is now his top overall cornerback, with South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn jumping Farley. Farley fell 12 spots to 17th overall and is third-ranked corner.

“Farley has outstanding size, length and speed for the cornerback position,” Jeremiah detailed in his draft rankings writeup. “He mixes up his technique and effectively re-routes wideouts with a one- or two-hand jam in press coverage. He’s very fluid/loose and stays in phase with his man underneath and down the field. Farley has a quick/smooth pedal in off coverage and his patience helps him handle double moves.

“He shows exceptional burst when he does drive on the ball. The redshirt junior has plenty of speed to carry vertical routes. He can find and play the ball down the field. He’s aggressive to fill versus the run, but he will fall off a few tackles. Overall, Farley has all of the ingredients to be a No. 1 cornerback at the next level.”

Fair or not, medical history is a vital part of the pre-draft process. With Farley having a recent back procedure, it’s likely that NFL teams will wonder whether he’s worthy of taking with a first-round selection.

Farley explained the injury in great detail, saying it originally occurred during a deadlift exercise. He injured his lumbosacral joint -- which connects the L5 and S1 discs -- but previously elected for a procedure to repair only the L5 disc. For a year, Farley wasn’t limited physically, although he did experience some sciatica symptoms. A little over a month ago, Farley’s S1 disc flared up. With the constant training Farley needed to do, his options were to take considerable time off to let the S1 heal on its own or undergo a microdiscectomy procedure.

He elected for the procedure, which put him out of his pro day. Although has raised medical concerns, Farley said this isn’t something that will limit him at the next level.

“I did a great job managing over a year but that bulge is still in my S1 and unfortunately I irritated it a month ago, which caused me to pull back on my training,” Farley said. “I was trying to cut back and manage the inflammation to come out here on pro day and put up some crazy numbers. But after talking to Dr. (Robert) Watkins, getting the MRI and getting things looked at, we were advised it would be best to go ahead and fix this problem so I will be ready for training camp and ready for the season. It was not a recurring disc or anything like that. What I had previously worked on is still intact. It was great news. I’m actually excited about this.”

Although they recently signed Fabian Moreau to a one-year contract recently, the Falcons are in the market for taking a cornerback at some point in this year’s draft. Taking one at fourth overall is possible, even if the odds don’t favor such a selection. But if this issue forces Farley to fall near the early second round, perhaps the Falcons are able to take a closer look at a first-round caliber player with great value, even if there is some perceivable risk involved.

That stated, Farley said once teams get his medical history in hand, they won’t be as worried as many outside observers seem to be when it comes to his long-term health.

“When the teams look at the imaging and get the real information I don’t think it will be an issue,” Farley said. “I accepted my draft invite so I’ll be in Cleveland. If a team wants the best corner in the draft, they’ll come find me.”

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