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Farley Another First Round Defender for Titans

By Dave Holcomb
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Heading into minicamp, Caleb Farley is expected to start in the secondary.

The Tennessee Titans are familiar with high-risk, high-reward selections in the first round of the NFL draft. They invested in another one with the pick of Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley.

There isn’t necessarily anything about Farley’s play that makes him a high-risk selection, but he didn’t play in 2020 due to COVID-19. The Titans picking him at No. 22 overall indicates they are confident he will be the same player after a year away from football.

If he can, Tennessee will begin to fix what’s currently holding back the franchise from a trip to the Super Bowl.

Behind a top five offense, which was second in yards and fourth in points scored, the Titans finished with 11 wins in 2020 -- their most since 2008. But the Tennessee defense left something to be desired.

The Titans were 24th in points allowed and 28th in yards allowed, yet that makes the unit actually sound better than what it was. Tennessee was also 29th in passing yards allowed and 31st in passing touchdowns yielded.

The pass rush was the source of a lot of those problems. The Titans were 30th in sacks and due to the lack of pressure on the quarterback, the secondary struggled in coverage.

In free agency, the Titans signed outside linebacker Bud Dupree and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Dupree is coming off a torn ACL in December, but he recorded 19.5 sacks in the 27 games prior to his injury. As for Jenkins, he had one interception and 12 pass defenses in 13 starts during 2020.

Together, Dupree and Jenkins should work together to improve the Titans defense. Even if Dupree isn’t the same player as he was before the knee injury, the presence of Jenkins could give the Titans pass rush an extra second to get to the quarterback because of improved coverage in the secondary.

The addition of Farley could make the coverage better as well.

“Farley possesses rare size for the position and does an excellent job of utilizing his frame and length to charge rent inside the catch space,” wrote NFL analyst Lance Zierlein. “While his traits and ball skills will be coveted, he’s still light on overall reps at the cornerback position.”

Heading into minicamp, Farley is expected to start in the secondary opposite Jenkins. But it’s hard to expect he won’t be a bit of a liability early in the 2021 season.

Not only did Farley not play in 2020, he still doesn’t have very much experience on defense. He came to Virginia Tech as an all-state high school quarterback. His first position change in college was to wide receiver, and he then moved to cornerback as a redshirt freshman in 2018.

In two seasons as a starting cornerback, Farley made 56 total tackles, including 1.0 for loss. He also posted 19 pass defenses and 6 interceptions. In 2019, he became a member of the All-ACC first team.

Farley lost his mother to breast cancer in 2018, and cited concerns with his father’s health as the reason he didn’t play last fall. Further hurting his draft stock, Farley had back surgery in March, which caused him to miss Virginia Tech’s pro day.

Unlike some other players who missed the 2020 season due to COVID, Farley had a legit reason not to play, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’ll still be behind where other 2021 first-round picks will be to start the season.

Still, this really isn’t all that much different from when the Titans picked defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons in the first round two years ago. Simmons wasn’t active during his rookie season until Oct. 19 because of a torn ACL from a non-football injury. But since his return, Simmons has 81 combined tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits and 5.0 sacks in 24 games.

Although it may take some time, looking at the long game, the Titans view Farley as part of the solution to fix their defense.