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Surtain, Farley, Horn or the Horned Frog?

Baylor v TCU Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Like any Arizona Cardinals fan and draftnik, I love a good debate as to which prospects are the best fits at a positions of need.

The majority of mock drafts that I have perused lately have the Cardinals taking a CB at pick #16, which makes sense seeing as CB is the team’s most imminent need on defense.

Therefore, I have been trying to study the top rated defensive backs in order to see for myself which ones appear, at least to me, to be the most gifted and well rounded cover men and run forcers.

The other factor in my way of thinking is that I am looking for a plug and play guy —- not a project who gets us all excited on draft day, only to find he’s on the sidelines on game days.

The NFL pundits pretty much agree that the top three CB prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft are Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II, South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn and Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley.

Having studied these prospects in action, I have arrived at the conclusion that Patrick Surtain is the safest bet of the three to play immediately in Vance Jospeh’s offense —- but I am also well aware that Surtain is likely to be the first CB taken, which means the Cardinals would have to trade up to acquire him. Surtain’s outstanding technique and playmaking skills are on full display here:

Having conceded that the Cardinals likely will have little chance to draft Surtain, I have been trying to warm up to the notion of the Cardinals taking Jaycee Horn or Caleb Farley instead. In terms of naturally athletic CB play, Caleb Farley has the edge, in my opinion. He plays a little looser and faster than Horn, who appears a little too tight at times.

However, how can any team in need of an instant impact player take the risk of drafting Caleb Farley in the first round, unless it’s a team like the Bucs who are loaded at every position and don’t have the urgency to play a top-notch prospect like Farley right away.

With Farley, he had the ACL, he’s really only played one full season at CB (albeit at a high level in college, but not the pros yet) and now he’s coming off of back surgery, which has prevented him from working out for teams. No one knows at this point what Farley runs in the 40, although it would appear on his 2019 game tapes that he’s a 4.45 guy who at times plays even faster.

Jaycee Horn recently ran a 4.38 at his pro day with Cardinals’ GM Steve Keim in attendance. But, as documented yesterday, his overall performance versus Alabama in 2019 was very disappointing and not indicative of a 1st round type of player. I was hoping to fall in love with Horn while watching that game. Instead, I frustratingly found him doing the type of things that have been plaguing the Cardinals’ CBs the last few years —- not fully hustling on some plays and downright embarrassing himself with half-assed tackling efforts. Plus, he was getting torched in coverage, either giving up way too much cushion or not making any contact with his man whatsoever in press coverage.

Yesterday, Johnny Venerable and others were reporting that the buzz around the NFL is how Jaycee Horn’s stock is rising like hot mercury on draft boards, to which I tweeted:

I very much appreciated Jalen KwaMane’s suggestion that I take a good look at Brett Kollmann’s recent Jaycee Horn video, which I did, but it confirmed the questionable “soft pedal and stack” technique that I had been seeing in Horn’s 2020 game tapes —-

If I were coaching Jaycee Horn, I would take him off of press coverage. In my opinion, because of his long strides, it takes him too long to “gather” his feet quickly enough to react to the WR’s cuts, curls and/or changes in direction. I think Horn knows this and it’s one of the reasons why he tends to try to grab as much as he does.

Jaycee Horn could be absolutely dynamic if you lined him up 3-4 yards from the WR, shading a yard to the inside for leverage and then he would be able to use his tremendous wingspan and quick first step to make breaks on the ball. Horn seems to be at his best when he sees the ball and at his worst when his head is turned away from the ball.

The basic rule for press coverage is to make jarring contact with the WR off the snap, thus spoiling the timing of the WR’s route and then maintaining touch with a hand at the WR’s mid-section, mirror the WR’s route stride for stride and then when he looks back for the ball, the CB looks back for the ball.

The truth is, there are only a few CBs in the NFL who have the confidence, the feet and the trust to do this press technique consistently well.

Patrick Surtain does all of this well, except more often than one might expect he tends to keep his eyes on the WR’s eyes and doesn’t often turn back to see the ball. Surtain, like some of the better CBs in the NFL, has a knack for anticipating when the ball will arrive and then getting a hand up into the WR’s hand triangle.

But, with Jaycee Horn, if he could keep an inside leverage type of 2 yard cushion on his man while in a “ball —- me —- you” triangle, he could make a ton of great plays. This is a technique that over the years Richard Sherman has mastered. If you have noticed in recent years, Sherman gets in trouble the most nowadays when he’s press coverage and his back is to the ball.

So this brings me back full circle to TCU’s Trevon Moehrig, the most natural, free-and-easy cover man whom I have seen in the draft pool. The true test of a cover man’s skills are how he fares one-on-one in space without having immediate help. When you watch Moehrig’s sensational ability to maintain leverage on his man with just a simple hand to the mid-section and the poise not to get too handsy, but to win with his feet instead by breaking on the ball, this is a coverage clinic.

When cover guys can win one-on-one in the middle of the field, that’s when you know they are special. Notice, for example, how difficult winning in the middle of the field has been for Patrick Peterson, especially in recent years. It take a whole lot of trust in one’s technique, a penchant for maintaining leverage, an ability to look back at the QB and the right timing to make breaks on the ball.

While Trevon Moehrig is listed as a safety, he is a 21st century “do it all” defensive back, who has been brilliantly trained in man-to-man and zone coverage techniques. Moehrig has everything a coach could want in a defensive back —- he’s basically a taller and a little faster version of Tyrann Mathieu, who could have been a very good CB in the NFL, if he was Moehrig’s size.

What Moehrig does so well (that Mathieu does) is time his breaks on the ball, which requires maintaining good leverage and being in an angular position to see the ball. Plus, Moehrig is eager to make tackles and help his teammates when plays break down —- he has all of those “baller” instincts.

Trevon Moehrig passes the Tillman Test with flying colors.

Patrick Surtain, Jaycee Horn, Caleb Farley and Trevon Moehrig are all the same size —- roughly at 6-1, 205. In terms of playing with “ease of movement,” coverage techniques and reacting quick as a cat to the ball, Trevon Moehrig is, in my opinion, the most reliable, the most versatile and, with Patrick Surtain, the most NFL ready.

It’s no secret that I am sky-high on Byron Murphy and feel that he will be one of the fastest rising stars on this year’s team. What was very encouraging to hear from Vance Jospeh this off-season is him say for the first time that “Byron can play outside.” Thus, the more versatile the Cardinals’ defensive backs are, the better. I am still of the the avid belief that Byron Murphy can be one of the best boundary CBs in the NFL, in all aspects of CB play.

If the Cardinals elect to address another position in round 1, here are four defensive backs in round 2 whom I believe have the potential to be outstanding:

Elijah Molden, 5-10, 190, Washington (the next dynamic Husky Cardinal defensive back?):

Aaron Robinson, 5-11, 190, UCF (the Alabama transfer who is fundamentally strong and cat-quick)

Jevon Holland, 6-1, 200, Oregon (you think I’m a little partial to “baller” defensive backs who wear #8?)

Ifeatu Melifonwu, 6-3, 212, Syracuse (“I got D.K. Metcalf, y’all”)

Because of these four very talented defensive backs, I think the Cardinals should feel free to draft the highest player on their board at #16.

It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that Patrick Surtain and Trevon Moehrig are in the Cardinals’ top 10. However, in terms of their grades on Caleb Farley and Jaycee Horn, that the Cardinals could have higher grades on DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Jaylen Waddle, Javonte Williams, Terrace Marshall and Kadarius Toney. Steve Keim has tended to draft on the opposite side of the ball from the side he drafted on the year previously. Thus, this year feels like a year to add to the talent of the offense.

Although, if the Cardinals take a defensive back in Round 1, some pundits, like Mel Kiper, are predicting that the Cardinals are hoping to select Louisville WR Chartairius “Tutu: Atwell in Round 2 who comps to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.

While Tutu Atwell is an electric prospect, because of his diminutive size (5-9, 160), he very likely can be had in Round 3, that is, if the Cardinals manage to move down from #16 or #49 to pick up a 3rd rounder.

The Cardinals, I believe, are on the verge of cashing in on 2019 2nd round pick, WR Andy isabella, who, in my opinion, is going to have a breakout season.

Plus the Cardinals just signed a diminutive track star 5-9, 168 WR in Darece Roberson from Wayne St. who ran a 4.35 40 at Florida Atlantic’s pro day.

No matter what happens in Round 1, it is going to be difficult to pass on the defensive back talent at #49.

The tremendous depth at CB and S, is why I believe that many teams will prefer to wait until Round 2 or 3 to take a defensive back, which in turn could cause Caleb Farley and Jaycee Horn to slide down into the latter portions of Round 1 or into Round 2.