Top 10 cornerbacks in the 2021 NFL draft

South Carolina defensive back Jaycee Horn (1) celebrates a stop during the first half against Vanderbilt, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (Sean Rayford/AP)
South Carolina defensive back Jaycee Horn (1) celebrates a stop during the first half against Vanderbilt, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (Sean Rayford/AP)

Credit: Sean Rayford

Credit: Sean Rayford

Here are the top 10 cornerback prospects (with projected round) for the NFL draft, which is set for April 29-May 1:

1. Patrick Surtain, Alabama, 6-foot-2, 208 pounds (first): It’s fitting that Surtain, once the top cornerback recruit in the country, now is the top player at his position in this year’s draft class. At Alabama, Surtain was an elite player who repeatedly locked down his side of the field. He ended the 2020 season as a unanimous All-American and was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. A smart and fundamental cornerback, Sustain also has the size and speed NFL coaches and scouts covet. It certainly helps that he excels in press-man situations.

ExplorePatrick Surtain tops cornerback class in 2021

2. Jaycee Horn, South Carolina, 6-0, 205 (first): Horn inherited great genetics, seeing that he’s the son of former New Orleans Saints receiver Joe Horn. Horn is a long and rangy cornerback who possesses good speed, evidenced by his 4.40-second time in the 40-yard dash. He’s excellent in press-man coverage and often is physical -- sometimes too much so -- at the line of scrimmage. After seven games of the 2020 season, Horn opted out to spend time with his family after they dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak. Horn played high school ball at Alpharetta.

3. Greg Newsome, Northwestern, 6-0, 192 (first): Newsome concluded his junior season in 2020 by being named a first-team Big Ten selection who led the conference with 10 pass deflections. Newsome wasn’t a highly coveted prospect out of high school by the traditional powers and continues to use that as a source of motivation. His 4.38-second 40-yard dash at Northwestern’s Pro Day helped propel his draft stock.

Florida State Seminoles defensive back Asante Samuel Jr. (26) tries to intercept a pass intended for North Carolina State wide receiver Tabari Hines (5) on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (Mark Wallheiser/AP)
Florida State Seminoles defensive back Asante Samuel Jr. (26) tries to intercept a pass intended for North Carolina State wide receiver Tabari Hines (5) on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. (Mark Wallheiser/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

4. Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State, 5-10, 180 (first/second): If Samuel checked in at over 6 feet, draft analysts may have positioned him as this year’s top prospect. Because of Samuel’s shorter height, he’s not ranked as high as he probably should be despite his track record. In 2020, Samuel was a team captain at Florida State and recorded three interceptions — two of which came against Georgia Tech. He’s the son of longtime NFL cornerback Asante Samuel Sr., who finished his career with the Falcons in 2012 and 2013.

5. Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech, 6-1, 197 (first/second): Early in the pre-draft process, Farley once was considered to be one of the top two cornerbacks by draft analysts. However, his previous injury concern was compounded by the fact he needed to undergo a recent back procedure. When it comes to his game tape, however, it’s clear to see why he is otherwise a first-round-caliber prospect. Farley opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, but posted four interceptions and 16 pass breakups in 2016.

ExploreCaleb Farley believes back injury is a non-issue

6. Eric Stokes, Georgia, 6-0, 194 (second): Stokes is one of the fastest players in this year’s draft class. At Georgia’s Pro Day, Stokes wowed scouts, coaches and executives by running the 40-yard dash in 4.25 seconds. Stokes starred at Eastside High in Covington as a running back and receiver before moving to cornerback at Georgia. Stokes’ cover skills improved over time, with his ceiling fairly high because of how new he actually is at cornerback.

Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes (27) is not able to complete the interception during the second half of the SEC Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Alabama won 35-28. (Hyosub Shin / hshin@ajc.com)
Georgia defensive back Eric Stokes (27) is not able to complete the interception during the second half of the SEC Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Alabama won 35-28. (Hyosub Shin / hshin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

7. Tyson Campbell, Georgia, 6-1, 193 (second): Campbell played high school football with Surtain and was a five-star prospect alongside him. Campbell has good man-to-man cover skills to go with exceptional speed to make up lost ground. Campbell ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds, which somehow wasn’t as fast as his teammate Stokes’ 4.25. Campbell was a three-year starter at Georgia who has plenty of room to grow into a sound NFL cornerback.

8. Elijah Molden, Washington, 5-9, 192 (second): Molden was named a first-team All Pac-12 selection in both the 2019 and 2020 seasons. With only four games in 2020, Molden posted only one interception. However, he had four during the 2019 season. Since he’s a shorter prospect, it’s possible Molden’s best fit in the NFL is as a nickel defensive back.

9. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse, 6-2, 205 (second): A tall and long corner, Melifonwu has the ability to play both man coverage and Cover-3. His 78½-inch wingspan serves as an advantage when it comes to taking away passing lanes for quarterbacks. He was named a third-team All-ACC selection in 2020.

10. Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky, 5-11, 197 (second): Joseph started his career at LSU before transferring to Kentucky after his freshman season in 2018. After sitting out of the 2019 season because of transfer rules, Joseph recorded four interceptions and five pass deflections this past season.

Teams in need: Bears, Bills, Broncos, Browns, Cardinals, Chargers, Colts, Cowboys, Eagles, Falcons, Giants, Lions, Packers, Panthers, Saints, Seahawks, Steelers, Texans, Titans, Vikings, Washington.

Need area for Falcons: Yes. Fabian Moreau and Isaiah Oliver will be free agents after the 2021 season.

Top 5 CBs for 2022 draft: LSU’s Derek Stingley, Clemson’s Sheridan Jones, Clemson’s Andrew Booth, USC’s Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Alabama’s Josh Jobe.

Explore2021 NFL Draft preview

AJC’S POSITION-BY-POSITION SERIES

QUARTERBACKS: How far will Justin Fields drop in draft? | Top 10 QBs

RUNNING BACKS: Plenty of prospects to pick from | Top 10 RBs

WIDE RECEIVERS: Draft deep with talent | Top 10 WRs

TIGHT ENDS: Ability to create mismatches is key | Top 10 TEs

OFFENSIVE TACKLES: A ‘nasty’ bunch | Top 10 OTs

OFFENSIVE GUARDS/CENTERS: The men in the middle | Top 10 C/OGs

END RUSHERS: Pass on this draft stock | Top 10 DEs

DEFENSIVE TACKLES: One star among lackluster block | Top 10 DTs

LINEBACKERS: Deep class for position | Top 10 LBs

CORNERBACKS: Plethora of options for first two rounds | Top 10 CBs

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