The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used their first round pick on University of Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III to help their pass coverage. How will this pick play out?
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The journey from high school to the NFL wasn’t a long one for Buccaneers’ cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Well, at least not geographically. The Wharton High School football and track standout was born and raised in Tampa, Florida. The 2013 Under Armour All-American game MVP had accepted an athletic scholarship to the University of Florida, a 112-mile trip up I-75 from home.
Hargreaves was a standout at Florida, named to the First Team All-SEC all three years he played, including as a true Freshman. With ten interceptions in his Florida career, and being named a two-time First Team All-American, Hargreaves declared for the NFL draft after his Junior year. His dream was to be drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that was certainly no secret. This was a guy who wore cleats to the NFL Scouting Combine that said “Tampa” across them. That was his home, that was his team, and that is where he dreamed of playing.
Having been one of the people in that “don’t draft Hargreaves camp”, I hadn’t done much homework on the young man. Now, my stance wasn’t against him personally, more had to do with the need to address the pass rush. The Bucs signed Brent Grimes and Josh Robinson in free agency, so I felt corner wasn’t nearly as big of a need as defensive end or defensive tackle in the first round. Luckily, the Bucs were able to address both as they nabbed Noah Spence in the second round.
“There’s a whole bunch of good guys that I’m here to learn – you know, Brent Grimes is a guy that I really look up to. I like to model his game, so I’m going to be in his pocket, asking him a bunch of questions and he’s going to be annoyed with me, but he’s just going to have to deal with me for a little bit.” -Vernon Hargreaves III
After sitting down to watch as much of Hargreaves as I could cram into a Sunday, I began to notice what Jason Licht and the Bucs coaches saw in this kid. His knack for the ball was evident, his coverage was overall incredibly good, and oh my goodness does this kid like to hit. It didn’t take long to see that Hargreaves will never miss a tackle. Ever. He is one of the best tackling corners I have ever seen. I watched him for over six hours and he missed two tackles, neither of which did he really have the time or angle to square up. It was impressive.
His size, 5’10” and 200-lbs, has been one of the bigger knocks on him translating to the NFL. I don’t care how little you may think he is, he’s taking down guys like Derrick Henry with ease. One of the other criticisms he faced was when he squared off against now Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper. The general consensus was that he was dominated by Cooper, alluding to the size differential. After watching that matchup, most of Cooper’s stats came away from Hargreaves and he even had an offensive pass interference call for pushing Hargreaves off of him in the end zone. Yes, the size may be a problem at times, as seen here;
Facing Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, and now Michael Thomas two times each per season, Hargreaves is going to have to find a way to defend that pass. If nothing else, Brent Grimes will surely have some tips for him in that area.
I came away with a few other impressions of Hargreaves after watching him. One of which was his ball skills. This kid is a baller. He always knows where the ball is and is always looking to make a play on it. Against Kentucky, a ball was batted into the air, but even before that, Hargreaves was breaking on it looking to make a play.
Hargreaves takes great angles on receivers and his quickness allows him to give them some space, more space than I was comfortable seeing him give at times. Too many times over the past few years, we’ve seen Bucs corners give ten-plus yards of cushion to receivers just to get burnt by a slant or quick curl. Seeing Hargreaves give the same, and sometimes more made me a little uneasy. However, he never let that beat him. He would either cover the receiver as they went on their route, or he closed so fast that on short passes they had no yards after the catch. Again, that “sure tackler” thing came in handy.
This was another example of Hargreaves giving a lot of cushion, but having the closing speed to make a play on the ball, nearly intercepting it;
Hargreaves’ nose for the football is uncanny. It’s what we had hoped to see from Johnthan Banks (and we may still, but time will tell), and it’s what you want out of not only a first round pick, but an eventual number one corner. Will Hargreaves be the number one corner out of the gate? Likely not, but with Banks, Grimes, and Alterraun Verner on the roster, it likely won’t be long before he is.
One final thing that really stood out about Hargreaves was his ability to read the quarterback. Even while covering the receiver, Hargreaves constantly has his eyes glued to the quarterback, reading him every step of the way. It often leads to Hargreaves getting a jump on a route, resulting in a pass breakup at the very least. Here, against Ole Miss, he reads the play and jumps the route perfectly for an interception that nearly became a pick six had he not been tripped by his own teammate.
Hargreaves is the real deal. As much as I criticized the pick at the time (again, due to lack of pass rush, not solely because of Hargreaves himself), and as much as I criticized his size, Hargreaves playmaking ability is evident on every play. He is a man-up corner which can be used on the outside or in the slot. His ability to read plays not only leads to pass breakups, but interceptions and tackles for minimal gains. This guy loves to be physical and loves to hit. He’s a sure tackler in the run and pass game. He’s the all around impact defender that the Bucs have been searching for in the secondary since Ronde Barber retired.
There is a lot to like here and a lot to get excited for. We will see Hargreaves suit up for the first time in rookie mini-camp later this month. I pride myself in being as critical and brutally honest about the Buccaneers in an attempt to separate the fan from the analyst, but Bucs fans, get excited…we got a good one in Hargreaves.