With our third edition of Buccaneers “Off-Season Homework” it seems fitting that we take a look at Vernon Hargreaves the Third. Like our previous two editions we’ll analyze Hargreaves’ 2016 season and determine what he needs to improve on this off-season.
It’s not often that we see an 11th overall pick get significantly less spotlight than two players picked after him. That was the case in Tampa following last years’ draft; Hargreaves was the Buccaneers’ first round pick, but a surprising slide netted them Noah Spence and a surprising reach netted them Roberto Aguayo. Both of these storylines put Hargreaves on the back-burner following the draft.
As the off-season progressed however the former Gator impressed and earned the trust of the Buccaneer coaching staff. By the end of training camp Hargreaves had taken the starting cornerback job opposite Brent Grimes and was the starting nickel corner in sub packages. He registered three interceptions in the pre-season and heading into week one the spotlight was back securely fixed on Hargreaves.
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Unfortunately for VH3, the NFL has a vicious habit of chewing up and spitting out rookie cornerbacks. The position is notoriously difficult to play even as a veteran thanks to the league loving to showcase offense, and as a rookie that difficulty is turned up to the max. Darrelle Revis, DeAngelo Hall and Ronde Barber all had tough starts to their career, and even the best rookie cornerback this season, Jalen Ramsey, graded out as Pro Football Focus’s 23rd corner and only reeled in two interceptions.
Vernon Hargreaves wasn’t able to avoid this trend of struggling rookie cornerbacks and as a result he has a heaping pile of work to do this off-season. Across the NFL, no corner gave up more targets, receptions and yards in 2016. Despite all the passes thrown his way, Hargreaves was only able to secure one interception all season, and he only came close a handful of times.
In a way, Vernon Hargreaves has a simple homework assignment this off-season: get better! Now, I know, that may seem boring or vague, but there truly is no aspect of Hargreaves’ game that can’t stand to be improved upon. Big-body receivers will always have a natural advantage on his 5’10 frame, but as teammate Brent Grimes has proved time and again, size isn’t everything, and sooner or later you have to make a play. Vernon should be tied at the hip to Brent this off-season in a continued effort to learn the nuances of being a small corner in a league filled with big receivers.
Experience and comfortably are key for Hargreaves’ improvement. His quick feet and hips that allowed him to mirror receivers step-for-step at UF haven’t disappeared, but they’ve been hidden by the learning curve of the NFL. Paralysis by analysis dooms a lot of young players and when Hargreaves is comfortable enough to read and react we should see an uptick in interceptions and defended passes.
Hargreaves’ vast room to improve isn’t to suggest that the Gator did nothing well as a rookie, and in fact there is plenty for the Bucs and their fans to be cautiously excited about. VH3 proved to be a willing and tenacious tackler, and as the season progressed he became visibly more confident in the natural abilities that got him drafted (see his mic’d up video against the Bears as an example). For all of his struggles, Hargreaves was still named to the Pro Football Writers of America’s all rookie team. If the young Buccaneer corner continues to be a football junkie and can learn from teammate Brent Grimes, we could perhaps begin to see flashes of Gator Hargreaves in 2017.