2024 NFL Draft: Caelen Carson Is Name To Watch At Cornerback

Sep 24, 2021; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons defensive back Caelen Carson (29) defends a pass in the end zone intended for Virginia Cavaliers wide receiver Malachi Fields (86) during the fourth quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2021; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Wake Forest Demon Deacons defensive back Caelen Carson (29) defends a pass in the end zone intended for Virginia Cavaliers wide receiver Malachi Fields (86) during the fourth quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Every draft cycle, I find some cornerbacks that stand above the rest in terms of intensity and competitiveness. Last year, Joey Porter Jr. and Devon Witherspoon held that distinction, as the gifted defensive backs served as tone-setters for their respective squads. Who is next in line for the 2024 NFL Draft? Allow me to introduce you to Wake Forest’s Caelen Carson.

An Early Look At Wake Forest CB Caelen Carson

Carson began his playing days as a three-star recruit at North Point High School in Waldorf, Maryland. Along with being a top prospect on the gridiron, he also flexed elite athleticism as a member of the basketball and track teams.

After garnering interest from several schools around the country, Carson committed to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in hopes of seeing immediate action as a true freshman. And that is exactly what happened.

The 6-foot, 195-pound defensive back earned a varsity letter in 2020 by providing an instant boost to the secondary. Carson intercepted one pass while constantly terrorizing his assignment in coverage throughout his rookie campaign.

His second season with Wake Forest saw Carson sharpen his skills in press-man coverage and as a tackler. The ascending talent at cornerback became a better all-around player and regularly forced teams to throw to the opposite side of the field. Even Sam Howell shied away from challenging Carson downfield.

He intercepted two more passes in 2021, along with an additional seven pass breakups. Unfortunately, Carson suffered a season-ending injury on a whiffed tackle vs. North Carolina. He departed from the game and didn’t see the field again until the following season.

As Carson entered Year 3 with the Demon Deacons, he looked to add more muscle to his frame to prevent future injuries. While the Maryland native still lacks the ideal NFL frame, his build looked stronger in 2022. Alas, the injury bug took another bite out of Carson as a leg issue forced him to the sideline for more than a month.

Upon his return to the lineup, Carson picked up right where he left off. The counting numbers dropped drastically last season, but that was a direct result of teams actively avoiding him in coverage.

Carson could have declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, but he returned to Winston-Salem to build a better resume and prove that injuries won’t be a constant cloud over his professional career. He is poised to lead the depth chart again, with the entire secondary feeding off his tenacity and competitive nature.

So, what makes Carson a legitimate first-round prospect? Here is a quick rundown citing his biggest strengths and most glaring weaknesses as we enter the new college football season.

2024 NFL Draft: Positives For Caelen Carson

Infectious Energy – Carson is as good as any cornerback in the country in coverage; he is never shy to let his assignment know it. As a tackler, he shoots downhill and delivers monster hits, lighting a fire under the defense as a result. Few can match the confidence and swagger that Carson possesses in spades.

Versatility – Whether he drops back in zone or presses a receiver off the line of scrimmage, Carson almost always finds himself in an excellent position. He exhibits fluid hips and an otherworldly ability to flip direction and re-accelerate. These traits serve him well in man coverage and allow him to cover his zone with ease in other formations.

Ball Skills – As Carson’s career has advanced, teams have become more reluctant to challenge him downfield. However, on the rare occasion that they do, Carson makes them pay by being a disruptive presence in passing lanes. He has a knack for getting a hand in the bread basket of the receiver, making it difficult to haul in passes from the quarterback.

Athleticism – I touched on Carson’s fluid movement a bit earlier, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg when talking about his overall athleticism. His elite start-stop ability highlights why Carson was such a star on the track team in high school. Furthermore, he displays remarkable footwork in his backpedal.

High IQ – Carson is the total package as a defender, showcasing top-end instincts in combination with his athleticism. The Wake Forest standout keeps his eyes glued to the passer and his assignment in coverage, oftentimes seeing plays unfold before they actually happen.

2024 NFL Draft: Where Caelen Carson Can Improve

Top-End Speed – Carson is a phenomenal athlete; this cannot be denied. However, one question that popped up while watching film centers around his top-end speed at the position. Carson is by no means slow, but there were a few instances on tape that saw him fall a step behind his receiver the further they worked downfield. In the right scheme, this won’t be an issue, but it is worth mentioning when building an NFL Draft profile.

Tackling Form – Carson improved considerably as a tackler since arriving on campus, but his form is still lacking on occasion. Sometimes the Demon Deacon defender is too anxious to make a play that he over-pursues and takes himself out of position to secure a tackle. NFL coaching will go a long way toward smoothing this out.

Durability – Carson plays bigger than he is, which is admirable but also leads to durability concerns with his body. He has suffered multiple injuries that put him on the shelf for weeks at a time, so logging a full slate without any medical issues is something NFL teams will want to see before pulling the trigger on Day 1 at the 2024 NFL Draft.

How High Can Caelen Carson Go At The 2024 NFL Draft?

Caelen Carson is a bonafide first-round talent for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. He is a brilliant mind that flexes elite functional athleticism and one-of-one confidence that every great cornerback in the NFL possesses. Injuries are far and away the biggest red flag on his resume, but teams will want to see even more improvement as a tackler too. It is still early, but Carson should firmly be on your radar for the 2024 NFL Draft. A Devon Witherspoon-like rise is not out of the question.