NFL Draft Betting: Who Will Be the First Cornerback Selected?
The NFL Draft is one of my favorite times every year. It’s a great moment of unity, where every fan of every team has some hope for the future, where we all boo the commissioner at every first-round pick just because we can.
It’s also the one part of the season where the casual football fan learns about defensive players, mainly on accident, when their favorite team selects one.
We’re still a few weeks away, though, so I want to help you learn about some of those defensive players in advance. FanDuel Sportsbook has posted a ton of lines on which players will be the first at their position to hear their name called at the end of the month.
We’ve already explored the defensive lineman market, so let's look at another loaded position group: cornerbacks. Who should you bet on to be the top corner on draft day?
Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
FanDuel Sportsbook Odds: -300
Alabama has churned out strong early-round talent at the cornerback position over the years. Since 2010, eight Crimson Tide cornerbacks have gone in the first two rounds; Patrick Surtain II will look to be the ninth to achieve that honor this April.
Surtain is an elite and complete prospect at the position, with impressive size and strong athleticism. He stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 208 pounds -- both high-end numbers for a physical, man-coverage cornerback -- and tested with a 94th percentile speed score and 87th percentile burst score. Despite coming out as a junior (Surtain is only 21), he played in 41 games for the SEC juggernaut, starting 38 consecutive to finish his college career, and produced in a big way. He turned in 2.9 tackles per game, 0.8 pass disruptions (pass break-ups or interceptions) per game and created four forced fumbles in his career.
Our own scouting doesn’t mean everything, though. As recent Covering the Spread guest Matt Freedman identified, using mock drafts from historically accurate mockers can be a good way to get a feel for the “wisdom of the masses.” To give us a baseline for expectations, I sourced the nine most accurate mockers over the last three years by FantasyPros’ mock draft accuracy tracker and compiled their 2021 predictions.
In all but one of the nine expert mock drafts, Surtain was the first cornerback drafted. There was also only one mock where Surtain was not selected as the 10th overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys (he went 12th in the other). His average pick value was 10.2, the highest in the class, though not by far. Still, he has the highest draft floor at his position, it would seem.
Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
FanDuel Sportsbook Odds: +195
This market is a two-man race, and the lines reflect that as South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn is the only player close to Surtain’s odds. While Surtain is clearly a player who defensive coordinators will want shadowing a top receiver on every down, Horn has scheme versatility as both a lockdown press-man corner and a shutdown zone defender.
Horn is thick and strong, standing 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, but still has longer arms than Surtain. He also tested just as well as (if not better than) the Alabama corner, with a 92nd percentile speed score and a 96th percentile burst score. He played 30 games over the last three seasons (just seven due to the pandemic and opting out in 2020), producing 3.4 tackles per game (0.3 sacks or for a loss) and 0.8 pass disruptions per game. Despite lower interception totals than Surtain, Horn still defended the pass at just as high a level.
Horn was the only player besides Surtain to earn a nod as the first corner taken across the nine expert mocks, but he placed there only once. His expected ceiling is eighth overall to the Carolina Panthers, and his expected floor is pick 16, with an average slot value of 14.0.
Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
FanDuel Sportsbook Odds: +1900
We’re already in the longshots at just the third name on the board, but Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley is worth discussing. The 6-foot-2, 197-pound Farley is the oldest of the top prospects at the position, as a redshirt junior who will already be 23 during this season.
Farley has a skill set at defensive back that allows him to move between cornerback and safety, and he is still developing as a defender after transitioning from quarterback in high school and wide receiver his freshman year. In addition, Farley suffered a knee injury as a freshman that caused him to redshirt, and he just underwent back surgery in March. Due to this, he has no testing numbers. He did play in 24 games in 2018 and 2019 (opted out in 2020), earning 2.3 tackles per game and 1.0 pass disruption per game. His natural ball skills are evident in his production, even though his technique remains raw.
Farley is also the third average slot value in the expert mocks, coming in at 22.2 with a ceiling of 16th overall and a floor of 28th. His medical red flags and the fact that he is still learning the position but also a few years older than the other top prospects give pause about his chances to be the top cornerback taken.
Greg Newsome II, Northwestern
FanDuel Sportsbook Odds: +2900
One of the more under-discussed prospects in this group is Greg Newsome II out of Northwestern, one of the teams that had a breakout pandemic season performance. Despite a smaller frame than the other top options, Newsome is still an average 6-foot-0 and 192 pounds. His testing came in above-average, however, as he landed with a 73rd percentile speed score, 81st percentile burst score, and 55th percentile agility score.
Newsome is a fresher face on the scene, having played just 15 games over the last two seasons, but he performed well in them: Newsome accrued 3.2 tackles per game and 1.7 pass disruptions per game, getting tested often and still holding strong. Newsome is an intelligent corner, with a diverse knowledge of schemes and patterns. Despite his slighter frame, he also has a reputation for a tenacious play style that one would equate with a larger player.
The experts seem to believe Newsome will go in the first round, but his good-not-elite physical numbers and slightly shorter resumé will likely prevent him from being selected before his peers. His average slot value is 24.0, with a range between 20th and 29th overall.
Asante Samuel Jr., Florida State
FanDuel Sportsbook Odds: +3100
Florida State's Asante Samuel Jr. is the final player in this article -- not because I think he is a viable option for the first cornerback drafted, but because I want to caution you away from hedging with him. The third player on this list with NFL bloodlines, Samuel is an energetic, strong, and fun player, but he should not be considered among the elite corner prospects.
While he will almost certainly be a fine pro player, Samuel weighed in at just 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds. Both of those measurements are very small, and they basically guarantee that he fits as solely a slot cornerback in the NFL. Only two cornerbacks since 2010 with a frame Samuel’s size have been drafted on even Day 2, and none went in Round 1. In addition, Samuel’s testing came in well below average in all categories except agility score (68th percentile).
The expert mocks give Samuel a range of 28th overall to 43rd overall when selected, but some leave him out of the first and second rounds entirely. His average slot value is 47.4, and he made the first round in only three out of nine mocks.
Patrick Surtain II is the probable top cornerback in the class, unless a team that loves Jaycee Horn moves up ahead of the Cowboys at 10 to take the South Carolina product. The Philadelphia Eagles have been rumored to be exploring a move back up into the top-10 to get ahead of Dallas and the New York Giants, and each of those teams does need corner help, so that can’t be ruled out. Nor can we rule out the defense-needy Detroit Lions, Panthers, or Denver Broncos grabbing Horn first, so there should be a level of uncertainty reflected in this betting market.
Surtain’s line has gotten stronger of late, however, going from -250 a few days ago to -270 yesterday and -300 today. The -300 odds give us an implied probability of 75%, which seems to be a tad high considering he’s not overwhelmingly a favorite ahead of Horn. If you want to get in on Surtain's market, get in now because the window is closing fast.
That said, I believe the best value bet here is on Horn. With Surtain becoming even more of a favorite every day, it’s possible Horn’s odds get better as we get closer to the draft, too. His +195 price is an implied probability of 33.9%, and while not many experts believe Horn will get selected ahead of Surtain, they aren’t slotting him in far behind. The two have similar prospect profiles, which makes this more of a coin flip to me than the market reflects.
The only viable longshot here is Greg Newsome II, but his chance to go ahead of the big two is so vanishingly small that I can’t -- with any confidence whatsoever -- recommend betting on him.