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NFL Draft: Teams would be wise to remember Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley

Caleb Farley (right) snags an interception in a 2019 game against Miami.
Caleb Farley (right) snags an interception in a 2019 game against Miami.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Caleb Farley is the forgotten prospect.

The ultra-athletic cornerback from Virginia Tech, who hasn’t played a game since 2019 after opting out of 2020, has been on a mission to remind everyone of his talents.

Perhaps the most physically gifted player regardless of position available in the draft, Farley isn’t often mentioned with some of the elite corners — most notably Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II and South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn — but if he’s fully recovered from a pair of back surgeries, he could end up being the best lockdown corner in this class.

After recovering from a torn ACL in 2017, Farley was the Hokies’ breakout star in 2018 with 36 tackles, 7 passes defensed, and 2 interceptions in his first season as a corner; he arrived in Blacksburg as a receiving prospect following a stellar career as a high school quarterback.

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Farley continued to turn heads in 2019 when he collected four picks and defended a dozen passes in 10 games. It was no secret that he was one of the best corners in the nation. What was a secret was that he was playing hurt after suffering a back injury in training camp.

After dealing with what he called an “annoying sciatica feeling” all season, he had surgery. His recovery was going well until a hiccup last month led to a second procedure, causing him to miss his pro day and raising red flags.

“We gave it a chance to heal on its own, which it had a good chance to do,” he said after Tech’s pro day, “but unfortunately just a month ago I had flared it up, inflamed it, and I got advised to go ahead and fix it instead of trying to keep waiting and heal on its own, because at the end of the day, being so active as an athlete and always training, your disk isn’t going to really have the time to heal and be reabsorbed back into the body like a normal person.”

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Farley reported he is progressing well, and according to an NFL media report, his surgeon told teams that Farley is on track to be ready for training camp. Microdiskectomy surgery typically has a 16-week recovery period.

Assuming there are no setbacks, a team would be getting a unique matchup defender in Farley, who has the skill set to defend pass catchers of all shapes and sizes and is still polishing his technique at the position.

At 6 feet 2 inches and 207 pounds, Farley has the size and strength to battle big receivers and tight ends but also the elite quickness and foot speed to hang with the smaller, slot-like guys.

Caleb Farley had six interceptions in two seasons as a collegian.
Caleb Farley had six interceptions in two seasons as a collegian.Matt Gentry/Associated Press

Farley doesn’t believe his injury history will be a big obstacle to his professional path and has said teams he’s spoken with don’t seem overly concerned.

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

Farley, who said he’s been spending many hours studying film during his rehab, can’t wait to get back to on-field work with his new employer.

“All I’ve been doing is breaking down offensive coordinators and learning from some of my mentors and guys in the NFL who have been playing the position for a long time,” he said. “Learning new techniques.

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“I’ve truly grown and got better in my fundamentals. I’m just excited to get around a staff, a new defensive backs coach, a new defensive coordinator, so I know I can just be a sponge and soak up everything they have to offer.”

Like most elite corners, the confident Farley prefers man-to-man coverage.

“I would love a coach to come to me and say, ‘Take out this team’s best wide receiver this week. If he goes for 150 receiving yards, it’s on you.’ I would love that,” he said.

Caleb Farley opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns about the coronavirus.
Caleb Farley opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns about the coronavirus.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

The Patriots already employ two of the best corners in the NFL in Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, so it wouldn’t seem to be an immediate position of need in the draft — but it soon could be.

Gilmore is in the final year of his deal and Jackson is slated to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2021 season.

So, while new deals and trades are always possible, it’s also possible that both starters are playing their final season in New England. Having a talent such as Farley waiting in the wings — while also serving a rookie apprentice year — would be a wise strategy.


Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.