Last week in my Daily Brew, I gave you my top running backs in the Harris 100 (awaiting final publishing and review). I'm sure that wasn't at the top of anyone's list of things to do while we were all trying to get power/water/heat all back in our lives. As such, here's that story.
This week, I thought I'd jump to cornerbacks and give you my top four in the Harris 100 (spot in the H100 noted). Overall, there are seven, but these are my four highest rated cornerbacks.
12 - Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech (6-2, 207)
Talk about a guy who popped on tape, my goodness! I was studying Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet for the 2020 NFL Draft and this guy #3 kept showing up all over the field against the Irish. #3 is Farley and for his efforts, he was voted 1st team All-ACC in 2019. He was a stat-making machine - 16 passes defensed (12 PBU, four INT) led the ACC and he was tied for second in the ACC with those four interceptions. He was also the first top 20 NFL Draft prospect to opt out of the 2020 season and Virginia Tech's defense certainly missed him. He's a patient, press corner. He can be physical when he needs to, but doesn't use his hands/physicality overwhelmingly like I've seen MANY of this draft class. His ability to play press, play off, fight off stalk blocks and tackle are outstanding. One of my favorite plays of Farley's was against Miami where he was in press coverage. He would not let the Hurricanes receiver beat him on the inside, nor would he let him stack him down the field. Farley stayed on his inside hip, stuck to him like Velcro. When the ball was coming down, Farley was able to stay in the hip pocket, track the ball and stay in phase. Then, he picked it in the end zone. That was a clinic on man-to-man coverage, to say the least. He's the best cornerback in this class. I can't tell you how much I value his ability to mirror and match routes and NOT use his hands. He can flip hips and run as much as he can get down and dirty and play the run. I don't know how teams will view his decision to opt out, but if that allows him to fall into my hands I'll send you a bottle of champagne and a thank you card every year. This cat can absolutely PLAY!
14 - Patrick Surtain II, Alabama (6-2, 203)
Two things hit me right out of the chute - the name and the traits. Let's start with the name - Surtain. His father of the same name was a 3x Pro Bowl cornerback in the NFL - 3x with the Miami Dolphins - and it was down in south Florida where Patrick Surtain coached his son Patrick Surtain II at American Heritage HS, along with Georgia star and 2021 NFL Draft CB prospect Tyson Campbell. Did anyone complete a pass on those guys in high school? The other thing that stands out is the traits - height, weight, speed - bigger, stronger, faster at one of the most important positions on a football field. The younger Surtain has the full package of DNA and elite traits and he will be a top 15 draft pick, I'm fairly certain of that. However, I'm not completely sure that his game has caught up with his traits/skill sets. Now, he's been ultra-productive and accomplished in his three years at Alabama. In 2019, he earned Honorable mention All-America honors from PFF as he racked up two interceptions, in addition to eight pass breakups. In 2020, he had a phenomenal season as he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and was the 2021 Rose Bowl Defensive MVP after a resounding win over Notre Dame. As a prospect, he's technically sound. His redirect is clean and typically on time with the action of the resulting play. He possesses adequate closing speed but he doesn't seem to trust his feet/speed 100% of the time in coverage. He catches/holds receivers when he doesn't necessarily have to do that. He can run with most receivers without being so handsy/unnecessarily physical. I think he's best in press when he can use that off hand jam to slow receivers and then run in their hip pockets down the field. Also, while he's in press, he's patient and doesn't get back on his heels or off balance in any way. He'll use different type of technique on receivers in that position. In off coverage, he's not as sudden with his feet to match and mirror how I'd like to see him. All in all, though, he's going to step into a starting spot in the NFL and stay for the next decade. Can he be a SUPER star? He's got a few things to clean up before he reaches that status.
21 - Jaycee Horn, South Carolina (6-1, 205)
Horn is the son of former Pro Bowl receiver Joe Horn, but, unlike Pops, the younger Horn stars on the defensive side of the ball and certainly looks the part. At first glance, he's the prototype - long arms, height/weight build. He just LOOKS the part and then he started really playing the part in 2020. He didn't have an interception in either of his first two years as a starter, but in year three, he finally got one. And, when he got one, he got two. Against Auburn, facing uber-stud Seth Williams, Horn came up with two picks in a major upset for the Gamecocks over the Tigers and it was one heck of a battle. Horn not only had those two picks, but he had four pass breakups and, if I remember correctly, they all came in man-to-man against Williams. One of the main reasons why Horn hasn't put up huge interception numbers is that teams generally avoid throwing at him. In 1,426 snaps in 2019, teams targeted Horn's receiver just 100 times (2.3%) for 57 completions (1.3% completion rate). He immediately reminds me of Ravens star Marcus Peters when he was in college. His technique isn't totally clean and his feet aren't always great, but like Peters, quarterbacks weren't successful when they threw in his direction. I remember Peters covering a receiver I really liked back in 2014 and I made every excuse for that receiver because I felt like Peters wasn't a great cover guy because he didn't always look the part, he was too frenetic in his movements. But, then, said receiver had two catches and Peters dominated him. That's the way I look at Horn, although I will admit Horn's game is more disciplined than Peters' was at Washington but, to me, the two are very similar. And, how did Peters turn out? Exactly. He needs some work on cleaning up his feet, but his instincts? On point! Furthermore, he plays the game with a serious edge too. He's not content just covering, but he'll come up to take on blocks and stick ball carriers too. He seems to have developed a feel for being physical without being too physical. He will get hands on a receiver but won't hold to draw a flag at the top of the route. He does a nice job of catching the receiver at the top of a route too and not drawing penalties. Now, there was a ton of vitriol toward Horn from the South Carolina fan base when he "opted out" with three games left in the season. As such, he'll have questions to answer during his pre-draft interviews and such but his physical gifts will probably do the talking for him.
36 - Greg Newsome II, Northwestern (6-1, 190 lb.)
Newsome II certainly looks the part of a next level cornerback with long arms, 6-1 frame and speed and he has the play to match those traits. I'll be honest, I love watching him play - tough, great tackler, disciplined, smart and he's got an edge to him too. He finished his career at Northwestern in 2020 as a 1st Team All-B1G honoree from both the coaches and the media. A weird anomoly was that he finished with just one interception in his entire three year career. Yet, that's not indicative of his ability to run and cover in any scheme and anywhere on the field. He did lead the Wildcats with nine pass breakups in his final season. He has great hip turn and excellent transitional quickness. He'll flip hips in bail technique and stay on top of receivers fairly easily. Furthermore, he can play a multitude of techniques and that aided him in a big way at Northwestern, but it should also help him at his next NFL stop as well. Northwestern played a number of different schemes and Newsome II fit them all very well. His match and mirror is exceptionally good. I saw just one time in the number of games that I studied in which he got turned around by a receiver and Illinois didn't even throw that receiver the ball. In fact, I don't remember Illinois even throwing at him, not once in a 60-minute game. Nebraska threw at him a few times and he broke up three passes, giving up just one completion on a speed out in front of him. Unfortunately, he was injured early in the B1G Championship game but he was throwing a blanket over the Buckeyes receivers all over the field, especially on go routes early in the game. I love watching him master different techniques and different schemes one play after the other. This cat will be starting in the league before too long, that's for sure, and I'm a huge fan of his.