Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Cynthia Frelund’s data-driven mock draft has 49ers selecting Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley

Mar 2, 2021 at 12:28 PM--

NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund released her first mock draft of the year and has the San Francisco 49ers bolstering an important area of need on defense. Frelund's mock draft, which she refers to as a "simulation," differs from those presented by her NFL Media colleagues. It is not attempting to predict what organizations might actually do during the draft.

"My analytics-based mock is based solely on a contextual, data-driven model that aims to do one thing: maximize each team's potential to win as many games as possible in 2021," explains Frelund.

The analytics expert also used past projections, results, and input from coaches, front office executives, and players to understand some of the model's successes and failures, allowing it to get smarter with each season of data.

Head over to for a more detailed explanation of the data used for Frelund's Round 1 simulation. What is different about this mock draft is it doesn't have several quarterbacks going within the top handful of selections. Trevor Lawrence is still the top pick, but the next quarterback on the board — Zach Wilson — isn't selected until the No. 8 pick. Justin Fields is selected one spot later, and Trey Lance isn't off the board until the No. 15 overall pick.

In which direction does Frelund's analytics data point the 49ers with the No. 12 overall pick? She sees the selection of former Virgia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley as the best way for San Francisco to increase its chances to win.

"PFF credits Farley with allowing a passer rating in coverage of just 26.8 in 2019 (he opted out in 2020)," wrote Frelund. "My model shows the Virginia Tech product had the best pursuit speed of any available corner in this draft. Combine him with that nasty Niners front, and new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans will get off to a great start."

Farley (6-2, 207) recorded 20 tackles, four interceptions, a touchdown, and 12 passes defensed through 10 games as a sophomore in 2019, per Sports Reference, earning first-team All-ACC honors. The circumstances of 2020 have left NFL scouts with just 23 collegiate games to evaluate Farley.

San Francisco has over 30 players still scheduled to become free agents. Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, K'Waun Williams, and Ahkello Witherspoon are among the cornerbacks slated to test the open market in a couple of weeks.

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