With the 30th Overall Selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select Caleb Farley. It is both reasonable and reckless. He appears to be, on one hand, highly talented and of great character. However, he also carries a significant medical history. So what’s going on here?
Where it all started out
A 3-star recruit out of North Carolina, Caleb walked on campus early as high school senior in 2017. As a WR in spring-ball, Caleb had a strong camp and garnered recognition. However, come the summer, Caleb tore his ACL on the first day of camp. While home recovering from his ACL, Caleb’s mother passed away from a long battle of cancer. Determined, Caleb rehabbed and returned strong for his redshirt freshman season in 2018. However, something was different.
With no apparent limitations to his ACL recovery, other than a position switch, Caleb excelled, as he transitioned into a CB. In that 2018 season, he was fantastic, tallying 36 tackles, two INT, and a sack. Starting to create some buzz in the draft circles, the redshirt sophomore had an extraordinary 2019 season, finishing with 20 tackles, four INT, and a TD as well as first-team ALL-ACC honors. However, Caleb missed the final two games with ‘back spasms’. This led to his first back surgery in the offseason.
Rehabilitating his back injury during the early stages of the pandemic, football was still set to kick off in the fall of 2020. Caleb showed up for camp but then decided to opt-out, citing the recent loss of his mother. Caleb was the first premier player to opt-out of the 2020 season.
Leading up to his pro day on March 26, Caleb announced he was having a second back surgery, three days before the event. Amidst the conspicuous timing, Caleb still went in front of reporters at his pro day. His interview was very insightful and honest about what was going on with the injury. The candidness and bravery to face the cameras were impressive. So what does this all mean?
Breaking down the injuries
First was the ACL reconstruction as a true freshman. Then he had a microdiscectomy of his spine two years later. Fast forward roughly another year to the present, and now he is having a second back surgery. We’ve seen it at different times in legendary careers, such as JJ Watt and Tiger Woods. However, to start a career like this is tough pickings. Once the spine is compromised, it can become a slippery slope. Effects on the nerves that run to specific lower leg muscles, as well as obvious effects on the spine’s structure, can be destructive to one’s athletic career. Looking at the big picture, Caleb’s human kinetic chain is and probably will continue to be compromised.
Go back to the thighs, could there have been a slight impairment after the ACL reconstruction that led to a kinetic chain breakdown? Did this subsequently lead to the demise of his back? What kind of risks does this mean? Well, he can continue to have more back injuries for starters. This could range from pain/spasms to more surgeries, or possibly even a career-ending spinal fusion. He also will carry the baggage from a previous ACL reconstruction. The ACL combined with the potential nerve issues from the spinal surgeries could carry additional risks of another ACL and/or Achilles’ tears.
The timing of all this makes it extremely difficult to project his trajectory of not only his draft status but also his career. Having the surgery before the pro day eliminated any chance to see him move on the field since he was last spotted in 2019. As a spectator, it’s hard to determine what permanent damage is present. In the worst-case scenario, the back injury never actually healed and played a quiet role in his opt-out. Also, the timing of his second surgery was planned to avoid having to showcase his abilities before draft day. IMO, an agent could have pulled the strings here to keep as much draft stock afloat as possible.
Adversity circled Caleb as soon as he walked on to campus in Blacksburg, VA. He dealt with an ACL rehab as a young, true freshman, while losing his mother, and still came back and excelled at a new position. Then he showed bravery and was the first premier player to cross the line and opt-out for COVID. Most recently, he faced the critics and spoke honestly to reporters about his medical situation, which technically has him on track to be a full participant come training camp. So how do we process that?
Too many risks. Might have never even recovered from initial back surgery, and never will. A short career that never takes off.
All Pro Potential
Maybe the kid takes his insurmountable baggage, rubs some dirt on it, and lives up to his Top-10 talent.
The road of immediate return
Caleb plays at a minimum CB2 production, carries good character, and stays free of catastrophic injuries for the life of his rookie deal.
Most likely, I would prefer the Bills to stay away, as we could find less risky options in the first round. However, if the Bills medical staff clears him, and McBeane takes the swing … I dig it. It would feel very McGahee-ish to me, with more potential for first-year production. Ironically, Farley’s agent is the same as it was for Willis: Drew Rosenhaus.