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A way-too-early look at the 2021 NFL Draft: Cornerbacks

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Which defensive backs could be donning the black and gold next year? Let’s look at the top corners Steeler fans should be watching this college football season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 07 Big Ten Championship Game Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

From the second the 2020 draft came to a close, speculation had already started up for the 2021 class. So, in that spirit, here we are with an article series highlighting prospects who look to be this upcoming draft’s biggest stars.

And the season hasn’t even started yet.

Admittedly, “way too early” draft predictions are exactly what they’re titled: Way too early - and as a result, are very rarely, or perhaps never, accurate at all.

In this draft primer series, we won’t be mocking players to any teams, but rather looking at the top players at each position who could get drafted by the Steelers with their first few picks in 2021. Prospects such as Trevor Lawrence, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Fields, and Penei Sewell, who are all expected to be gone long before the Steelers are projected to pick in the first round, will not be included.

The goal? Not to make any “hot take” predictions, but rather to look at some players that Steeler fans might want to watch a little closer than usual this college season.

Tenth in this series will be the position that is one of the hardest to translate into the NFL: cornerbacks. They are ranked in no particular order.


Shaun Wade, CB #24, Ohio State

2019 stats: 25 total tackes, 16 solo tackles, 1 interception, 8 passes defended.
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 194 lbs.

Ohio State has a long history of producing NFL cornerbacks. Most recently, 2020 first round picks Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette. Shaun Wade looks to be the latest in 2021.

Wade is a versatile corner with good size for the position. He’s a fluid athlete who has no problem flipping his hips and mirroring receivers. He has good speed, long arms, and can play in both man and zone schemes. He has good footwork and quickness, as well.

Another aspect of Wade’s game is his work near the line of scrimmage. He is a excellent run defender and can blitz when called upon. He is aggressive and surprisingly good at shedding blocks at 194 pounds.

Spending most of his time in the slot at Ohio State, there are some concerns surrounding Wade’s ability to play outside. He has the size to play on the boundary and has impressed when he has played in roles other then the slot, so he should have the versatility to play elsewhere in the NFL. Wade’s aggressiveness can get the best of him sometimes as he can be bit grabby on routes, and his ball skills are still below-average.

Wade has drawn a comparison to Steelers’ All-Pro defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick from NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah due to his versatility and style of play. Similarly to Fitzpatrick, Wade can expect to hear his name called in the first round as one of the best DB’s in his class.

Some notable articles about Shaun Wade:

Shaun Wade Draft Profile - The Draft Network

Scouting Shaun Wade: Ohio State star could be NFL draft’s next CB1 - NFL.com

Shaun Wade: The Enigma of the 2020 NFL Draft Class - With the First Pick


Patrick Surtain II, CB #2, Alabama

2019 stats: 42 total tackes, 32 solo tackles, 2 interceptions, 8 passes defended.
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 203 lbs.

Much like Shaun Wade, Surtain has a legacy to live up to in the NFL. Alabama has produced it’s fair share of NFL defensive backs, but Surtain’s father, also named Patrick Surtain, was an All-Pro corner who spent eleven years in the league.

Surtain is the full package at cornerback. He is an athletic, lock-down corner who possesses all of the traits of an elite defensive back. Surtain has excellent size and length, with speed and fantastic coverage ability. He’s a versatile defender who is best suited for the outside, but has impressed in the slot. He is a willing run defender with a knack for forcing fumbles, and has great ball skills, as well.

Surtain’s football bloodlines and athleticism/production combination should make him a popular prospect this fall. He is a first round talent who, along with Shaun Wade, is in the running to be the highest picked of this year’s draft class.

Some notable articles about Patrick Surtain II:

2021 NFL Draft: Patrick Surtain has the pedigree to lead cornerback position - Pro Football Network

Alabama Football: Player profiles 2019 – Patrick Surtain II - Bama Hammer


Paulson Adebo, CB #21, Stanford

2019 stats: 33 total tackes, 23 solo tackles, 4 interceptions, 10 passes defended.
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 190 lbs.

Adebo is a athletic, physical corner with great size to match. He’s a prototypical boundary cornerback who can hold his own against big, fast receivers on the outside. He can flip his hips and stay with receivers quite well, even though his short area quickness could be improved.

As a run defender, Adebo isn’t shy, but still could work on his tackling consistency. He’s a converted wide receiver, with good hands as evidenced by his interception numbers. He can still be late to track the ball at times when in coverage, and could work on his overall awareness.

There are some similarities between Adebo and former Michigan State cornerback (and current Steeler) Justin Layne. Both are converted wide receivers, with good length and physical tools, with an aggressive style of play. Neither are freak athletes, but can hold their own despite being relatively new to the position.

Adebo looks to be primarily an outside corner in the NFL, as he’s not a particularly versatile defender. He’s still a little raw and inexperienced, but has a lot of potential with not many weaknesses in his game. He’s currently in the mid first-round/early second-round conversation. If he can continue to improve his game this season he could potentially be first corner off the board.

Some notable articles about Paulson Adebo:

Paulson Adebo Draft Profile - The Draft Network

2020 NFL draft: Paulson Adebo scouting report - Draft Wire


Caleb Farley, CB #3, Virginia Tech

2019 stats: 20 total tackes, 14 solo tackles, 4 interceptions, 12 passes defended.
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 207 lbs.

Farley is yet another cornerback who is relatively new to the position, but has impressed during his time on defense. He has great size and is an excellent athlete, but what stands out the most is his production. Four interceptions and twelve passes defended are no joke, making Farley’s coverage stats among the best in the nation in 2019.

After showing some potential in 2018, Farley showed that he had made it past the majority of his growing pains in an excellent 2019 season. His game was more polished overall and he was more consistent than before. Farley’s ball skills, speed, and sticky coverage have the makings of him becoming a talented cover corner on the next level.

Farley has a good chance at living up to his school’s legacy of producing NFL defensive backs. This season will be pivotal for him, as he will have to show that he can duplicate the success he had in 2019, and improve upon it as well. He’s an intriguing prospect with a good chance at becoming a first round pick in the upcoming draft.

Some notable articles about Caleb Farley:

Evaluating Virginia Tech’s 2021 NFL Draft Prospects - All Hokies

2021 NFL Draft: Three reasons Caleb Farley can be the first cornerback drafted - Pro Football Network

Virginia Tech Football: Will DB Caleb Farley Emerge As The Top Cornerback In ACC In 2020? - All Hokies


Some other names to look out for this season include Florida’s Marco Wilson, Georgia’s Tyson Campbell, Clemson’s Derion Kendrick, Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr., NC State’s Nick McCloud, South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, Washington’s Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor, and Oregon’s trio of Deommodore Lenoir, Thomas Graham, and Verone McKinley III.

Poll

Which cornerback would you most like to see as a Pittsburgh Steeler next year?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Shaun Wade
    (38 votes)
  • 58%
    Patrick Surtain II
    (114 votes)
  • 4%
    Paulson Adebo
    (9 votes)
  • 12%
    Caleb Farley
    (24 votes)
  • 4%
    Other
    (9 votes)
194 votes total Vote Now

Will the Steelers be searching for another cornerback in the 2021 draft?

Unless contract woes or severe regression hit the cornerback room, probably not. Joe Haden and Steve Nelson are among the best corner duos in the league. Though Haden is nearing the end of his career, he still has a few good years left and is surrounded by a talented supporting cast. Mike Hilton has been a solid presence in the slot, while Cameron Sutton and Justin Layne provide quality depth.

Layne is the only major question mark, but without many contributions from him last year, the Steelers’ secondary was still a strength of the team. Both Hilton and Sutton are on contract years, but it’s impossible to predict who will stay or go with a full season yet to be played.

Corner is far from a pressing need for the Steelers, and that is definitely a good thing. The team’s first round pick can go towards strengthening another aspect of the roster, and fans who know of the Steelers unfortunate track record in developing defensive backs won't have to watch another Artie Burns-esque scenario play out.