NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Cornerback Caleb Farley couldn’t be happier to finally stop answering questions about his surgically repaired back.
“It’s just frustrating,” said Farley, who graduated from Maiden High in 2017. “You get to a point where ... you want a team to draft that you believes in you. And if you don’t believe in me, then play against me.”
The Tennessee Titans believed in the Virginia Tech defensive back enough that they drafted Farley at No. 22 overall Thursday night. General manager Jon Robinson used his first selection on defense after releasing starting cornerbacks Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler to free up salary cap space in March.
The defending AFC South champions have needs at other areas, including wide receiver. Robinson also said there were a couple chances to trade back, but the Titans didn’t want to risk losing Farley with eight more selections left including Nos. 53, 85 and 100 on Friday night.
“We just felt Caleb was far and away at the top of the heap,” Robinson said.
The 6-foot-2, 197-pound Farley was the first high-profile player to opt out of the 2020 season last July because of the coronavirus pandemic. He lost his mother to cancer in 2018 and was unwilling to put another loved one at risk.
The cornerback also had surgery in March to repair a herniated disc just before the Hokies’ Pro Day, though he is expected to be ready for the start of training camp and has no regrets on his decision. He also tore an ACL in 2017 and had surgery to repair another herniated disc after the 2019 season.
Farley said both disc injuries came from a weightlifting incident.
“Probably should’ve got it fixed at the same time, but it didn’t play out like that,” Farley said. “I’m so glad it’s behind me, and I’m a Tennessee Titan. Let’s go.”
Robinson said the Titans’ trainers and doctors spent a lot of time analyzing Farley’s medical information and talking with the cornerback.
“We’re super stoked to have him as part of our football team,” Robinson said.
Farley didn’t attend the draft in Cleveland because he announced Wednesday he had tested positive for COVID-19. But he said Thursday night that was may have been a false positive because he tested negative earlier Thursday at a hospital.
“I feel great,” Farley said.
Coach Mike Vrabel said Farley’s athleticism stood out to him. Farley played quarterback in high school and started his college career at wide receiver.
“There’s a certain level of athleticism, smoothness, a lot of fluidity,” Vrabel said. “That’s what really stood out there was just the athleticism.”
The Titans had to revamp their defense despite coming off their best season in 12 years when they won the AFC South and hosted their first home playoff game since 2008.
Robinson started the process in March by cutting Butler, Jackson and safety Kenny Vaccaro. That made room to sign outside linebacker Bud Dupree and defensive lineman Denico Autry to try and improve a pass rush with just 19 sacks last season. Tennessee was better than only Cincinnati and Jacksonville in that category.
The Titans also were dead last in the NFL on third down, allowing opponents to convert 51.8% of them. They gave up 398.3 yards a game (28th in the league) and allowed 277.4 yards passing a game (29th in the NFL).
Vrabel gave the defensive coordinator title to Shane Bowen, who called the defensive scheme last season without the title. V rabel also hired Jim Schwartz, former Eagles defensive coordinator and Detroit head coach, as a senior defensive assistant.
Now the Titans have Farley at cornerback to go along with Kristian Fulton, drafted last year in the third round out of LSU. They also signed veterans Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins and Kevin Johnson as free agents.
“You can never have enough cover guys,” Robinson said.