Draft Prospect Breakdown: Vernon Hargreaves (CB, University of Florida)
Background & Stats:
Vernon Hargreaves has been a highly touted prospect for a very long time. One of the top cornerback recruits coming out of high school, Hargreaves chose the Florida Gators and never looked back. After tying UF’s freshman record for pass breakups, he earned first team All-SEC honors. He followed his inaugural campaign with two even better seasons and became an obvious contender for the Jim Thorpe Award, awarded to the nation’s top defensive back.
The Florida standout finished his college career with 28 passes defensed and 10 interceptions, solidifying his standing as a top draft prospect. NFL Network reporter Rand Getlin has reported that Hargreaves has pre-draft visits/meetings with eight teams, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The cornerback is understandably drawing a ton of interest around the league.
Hargreaves is undeniably the most natural cover corner in the country. He excels in man coverage (both press and off-man) utilizing his unprecedented instincts, route recognition and body control to shut down opposing wide receivers. It often seems like he is the player running the route.
He is so quick and consistently displays strong balance and hip fluidity. These attributes go hand-in-hand with his ability to remain on the hip of the receiver in man coverage. For this reason, Hargreaves is extremely difficult to beat:
However, the defensive back isn’t a one-trick pony. The Gators spent a lot of time in off-man coverage and zone coverage as well. His route recognition really helps in this part of the game. His ability to read the eyes of the quarterback is significant as well and, while people don’t usually consider him among the more athletic prospects, he was still a top performer at his position in the vertical and broad jumps at the NFL Combine. All of these make his impressive performance across the various coverage schemes completely understandable:
While scouts may point out his success in press coverage as his most surprising strength (considering his stature), his physicality plays a huge role in this regard. This aspect of his game, in addition to his all-around aggressiveness and competiveness, benefits him in the run game as well. Despite a tendency to be a little loose in tackling technique at times, his willingness to take part in run support, fight through blocks, and attack more physically imposing ball carriers will be much appreciated by teams around the league:
Finally, while Hargreaves has never been considered a ball hawk, he truly does have great ball skills and a nose for being in the right place at the right time. Most top cornerbacks have soft hands and, as displayed in this next play, Hargreaves is no different:
It is truly a joy to watch Hargreaves play, and he should be praised for his love of the game and desire to be the best. These qualities alone make it extremely unlikely that Hargreaves fails at the next level, and in turn, he is one of the safer prospects in this year’s draft.
The downside to drafting Hargreaves is that his two obvious red flags aren’t going to change. Whereas some prospects have weaknesses that can be improved with the help of coaching, such as technique, Hargreaves’ only real negatives are his size and his straight-line speed. Hargreaves is by no means small; but at 5’10”, his height is simply slightly below average compared to the NFL’s prototypical premier corners. This could lead to problems when facing the league’s bigger receivers, and it raises questions about Hargreaves’ ability to be a true number one corner at the next level. Take the SEC Championship game against Alabama, for example:
At the combine, Hargreaves ran a 4.50 40-yard dash. Running a faster time would’ve helped in alleviating concerns about his size. Instead, it simply adds to the questions. As I explained before, Hargreaves has plenty of quickness; it is his recovery speed that has scouts worried. The NFL is obviously played at a faster pace and at a higher level than in college, meaning Hargreaves won’t have the same margin of error as he is used to. Is he up for the challenge? Many think so. But that doesn’t ensure anything.
The top prospect has some smaller noticeable weaknesses as well. His aggressiveness, while previously described as a positive, can get him into a lot of trouble at times. It sometimes leads to taking unnecessary risks, which equates to big plays that could’ve been prevented. There is a reason that the nation’s best cover man allowed 16.5 yards per completion this past season. Look no further than his performance in the Citrus Bowl against Michigan for proof. On one particular play, Hargreaves bit hard on a double move hoping to force a turnover. Instead, Michigan scored an easy 31-yard touchdown.
Hargreaves is a heck of a prospect, but no player is perfect coming out of college. None of these points will affect his draft stock too much, but teams will surely consider them as they attempt to make their final decisions come draft day.
Pro Comparison: Joe Haden (CB, Cleveland Browns)
This is one of the easiest comparisons that scouts will make during the draft process. Sure, they both were standouts at the University of Florida, but the similarities definitely do not end there. The 5’11” Haden was also considered slightly undersized, and he disappointed in the 40-yard dash (4.57 seconds). Haden remained in the top 10 despite these concerns, just as Hargreaves is expected to, and we have all witnessed how his competiveness, coverage abilities and ball skills have translated to success in the NFL. Hargreaves can have similar success at the next level, and it is this potential that will have team’s chomping at the bit to draft him.
How He Fits in Miami:
I see Hargreaves as a seamless fit for the Dolphins. He would be able to stay in Florida and join a defense desperate for playmakers, especially in the defensive backfield. Miami has no choice but to improve against the pass next season, and Vernon Hargreaves could start across from Byron Maxwell from day one. We have previously discussed that Maxwell is a better fit with the Dolphins than he was with the Eagles because of the zone coverage schemes ran by new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. With the experience that Hargreaves gained in zone coverage as a Gator, Joseph would have two cornerbacks that are able to excel in his preferred technique.
Even beyond his fit in the defense itself, Hargreaves would benefit greatly from playing under Joseph, the former defensive backs’ coach. Joseph would be the perfect coach to help Hargreaves hide his shortcomings in size and speed, while continuing to improve Hargreaves’ coverage abilities and tackling technique.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Hargreaves is exactly the type of competitor that would be the perfect addition to a Miami squad that is undergoing a franchise wide culture change. There are very few prospects that possess the sort of drive and passion that Hargreaves displays on a game-to-game basis, and the effects he could have on his teammates would not be taken for granted by the Dolphins’ front office and coaching staff.
There have been rumors all offseason about the team’s desire to target a defensive end in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft and, if they end up being true, Hargreaves might never have been one of the team’s top choices. However, it is still unfortunate that the Dolphins may no longer be in the appropriate range to draft Hargreaves. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t have pulled the trigger on the deal for Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso; in terms of value Miami undoubtedly “won” the trade. It is simply to say that if they are planning on targeting cornerback early in the draft, they might have lost the opportunity to draft a really good one in Hargreaves. Hargreaves has almost everything you look for in a top corner and, with his high football IQ and competitiveness, there is very little chance that he disappoints at the next level.
If Miami misses out on Hargreaves, there will be a few other options at the position (which we will surely cover later in our series of draft breakdowns). However, they could also choose to address the position later in the draft, which wouldn’t be a terrible decision considering the overall depth at the position. The fact is, it is still too early to pinpoint the franchise’s plans at this phase of the process. At the same time, one thing certainly cannot be denied: if Hargreaves were to be available somehow at the Dolphins’ pick, it would definitely be a surprise to see him fall any further down the board. He is just too talented and too good of a fit for them to pass up the opportunity.