Caleb Farley may be a star, but he's a risk when Tennessee Titans needed a sure thing | Estes

Gentry Estes
Nashville Tennessean

The long-term upside is obvious. Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley might end up being the steal of the first round. He’s that good. We might look back in a few years and wonder how the Tennessee Titans were able to land him at pick No. 22 in the 2021 NFL Draft.

We might also look back and wonder – again – what the Titans were thinking.

Farley’s immediate downside is obvious, too. It’s why he was still available at No. 22 despite once being projected as perhaps the top cornerback in this draft class.

He is not healthy right now. And it’s unclear when he’s going to be healthy.

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The Titans on Thursday night sure didn’t sound like they knew, even as they stressed that Farley got a thumbs-up from their medical staff after undergoing back surgery.

Is he going to be ready for training camp? The first game next season?

“We don’t put timetables or expectations on that,” said general manager Jon Robinson.

Farley said he is “expecting to be ready” for camp, but even he couldn’t know for sure.

“Neither his agent or anybody knows when he’s going to be ready,” added coach Mike Vrabel. “We’ve been down this road before. … We’re confident and comfortable, and that’s why we took him. We’re extremely excited. But we’re not going to sit here and try to give everybody a timeline of when that may happen.”

I don’t view this as a bad pick by the Titans. They got the value of selecting a player roundly rated as better than the spot he was selected. If Farley is healthy, it might end up being a great choice.

But what if he's not healthy? 

This was an unnecessary risk for a Titans defense that isn’t in any shape to be gambling on help it desperately needs from its first-round pick.

The Titans felt the gap between Farley and whomever else they were considering at No. 22 was wide enough to justify that. What did they know that other NFL teams did not? Back trouble was clearly the reason Farley fell as far as he did. Some were speculating that teams were so spooked that he wouldn’t even be drafted in the first round.

If you're a Titans fan, you couldn’t help but feel a familiar frustration when barely a minute into Thursday’s media Zoom call, Vrabel said, “It’s just something that we’ll have to work through here.”

It wasn’t something the Titans had to work through here. It was something they chose to have to work through here. So if come November they're sitting there blaming dumb injury luck for another draft class providing next to nothing, that will not hold up.

With the Titans and the first round, why does it always seem so difficult?

Why do other NFL teams get to exit the draft’s first night each year with sure-fire starters and the Titans always seem to be waiting to see what happens?

Jeffery Simmons was similar in 2019. He fell further than he should have in that draft because of a knee injury and off-field baggage. With the knee, the Titans could be patient with Simmons. To their credit, it worked out wonderfully that Simmons was a brilliant pick.

With Farley, though, it's not a knee or a shoulder injury. Anyone who has ever had severe back pain understands that back problems don’t always heal. They can be chronic. They can be debilitating in any sport, but especially one with routine high-speed collisions.

And the Titans simply can’t afford to be as patient with Farley as they were with Simmons. Not after just releasing their top two cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Adoree’ Jackson as salary cap casualties. This team needed a plug-and-play cornerback who they knew would be able to step in right away.

Instead, Farley isn’t even in Nashville yet and we’re already wondering how much he’s going to be able to practice leading up to the 2021 season. Practices he'll need, because he didn't play for the Hokies in 2020.

Why opt for that risk when, say, Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II, selected by the Cleveland Browns four picks later, could have been ready to roll?

With Farley, the Titans may have drafted a star for tomorrow, but they didn’t draft a stable contributor today.

And while they’d like to have the former, they’re going to need the latter.

Reach Gentry Estes at and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.