Ah, yes, draft week. The week where all the mock drafts, the rumors, the opinion pieces, the rankings and the speculation come together in beautiful chaos to form the three-day event that is the NFL Draft.
For draft nerds like me, the progress of a player from true freshman to NFL rookie is a fun one to follow. There are little annoyances along the way, sure, but a the end of the collegiate journey it is something that should be celebrated. For a handful of Florida players, this weekend will be the culmination of their hard work, determination, and athletic ability: It will be the moment they make their dream a reality.
This week, we're publishing Florida fan-centric, in-depth scouting report of Gators that could have their names called at any point on draft weekend. We'll examine a little background of where they come from, link that into what they do well on the field and what role that translates to at the next level, and give an outlook of their draft stock and potential landing spots this weekend.
We saved Vernon Hargreaves for Thursday. The most pro-ready Gators prospect this season, VH3 has been destined for the NFL since before he was even suiting up in orange and blue.
They say that calling a place home isn't specific to where you live, or exactly where you were born. It's where your heart is. It's where you picture yourself at your happiest. It's the place you're most comfortable. It's a place you feel proud to be a part of.
For Vernon Hargreaves III, that place has always been Tampa.
He wasn't born in Tampa. It's not even the city where he earned his first college offer. But it is the place that makes him smile the most when he talks about it. It's the place that inspired him to wear some unique cleats at the NFL Scouting Combine. It's the city he chooses to put on his back every time he takes the field.
During his recruiting process, the consensus five-star and No. 4 overall prospect in the country found a sense of home in another location: Gainesville. That's the reason he chose Florida, when he could've gone to any school in the country. It was that little feeling of home he got when he experienced The Swamp in orange and blue.
For three years, Hargreaves has certainly looked at home as a Gator. He's played in 36 games in his three years, and has recorded at least three interceptions in all three of his seasons (a total of 10 for his career). In 2015, he not only led the SEC in passes defended, but was also named a consensus All-American.
Hargreaves lived up to his five-star status, both as a player on a field and an ambassador for the university. He's been considered the top player at his position both in high school and college, but now he makes the jump to his final competition level, the NFL -- one he says he's thought about a lot over the last year.
So can Hargreaves continue his mastery of the cornerback position at the next level? Should a team believe in him enough to make him the first cornerback taken?
The game of football is all about making the play, whether that's done by scoring a touchdown, hitting a big throw, or creating a turnover. You want players on your team who have a knack for making plays. Doing things that change the course of the game requires two primary components. One of them is a mental edge, derived from belief that you can do what you set out to do to change the game. The other is physical ability, and this is where the NFL often starts their evaluation.
The main knock on Hargreaves is his build. It's no secret: He's short. And over the last 10 months or so, people have debated whether he could really lock up No. 1 receivers in the NFL with his measureables.
Certain teams in the NFL have what they call "measureable thresholds." They'll take years and years of research to find a common correlation between positional success, and the height and weight it takes to have that success, then create a threshold number beyond which they simply won't draft a player. At 5'10.5", Hargreaves just makes the threshold of 5'10.25" that most teams use as their floor for corners. Some teams have an even higher threshold, and yes, that means some teams won't be drafting VH3, no matter how good his tape is.
Flirting with the threshold line isn't ideal. If a prospect is right around there, they better have the athletic numbers to prove they can make plays happen with shorter height and reach. So does Hargreaves? The answer is yes.
When you look at the graph as a whole, it's not as filled out as you'd like. But when you look at what he does well on the graph, it's ideal when making up for lower percentile measureables.
Hargreaves tested in the 94th percentile in explosiveness (the broad jump), the 87th percentile in quickness (20-yard shuttle). and the 82nd percentile in aerial range (vertical jump). Those percentiles aren't measured against the rest of the cornerback class he's in for the draft. They're measured against all cornerbacks already in the NFL.
Height and length aren't skills on their own in football, they way they sometimes are in basketball; they have to be applied. But the reason they're coveted in the NFL is because of the potential they bring. The more height and length a player has, the more range he has naturally, even before measuring athletics: In theory, "longer" players have a better chance of making plays on a ball because their range is significantly larger from jump street.
But to say Hargreaves doesn't have range at all because of his height or 40 time is just failing to observe his overall athletic ability.
Your two freaks of the 2016 Combine: Jalen Ramsey (99th percentile) and Vernon Hargreaves (98th percentile)— Zach Whitman (@zjwhitman) March 1, 2016
Zach Whitman does a lot of great working using calculated SPARQ scores to measure prospects' athletic ability relative to the current state of the league. In his research, Hargreaves fell into the 98th percentile for overall athletic ability.
That makes him more athletic than most defensive backs in the league.
And, again: It's not just athleticism, but rather, what's done with athletic ability married to instincts and desire, that makes a great football player.
In the Vine above, we see Hargreaves not only showing off his range, but his ball skills as well. He puts those combine percentile numbers to use with great timing and focus to earn the takeaway.
A cornerback's job is not an easy one. In fact, in today's NFL, it might be the most demanding on the field. Think about it: A cornerback's job is to run stride-for-stride with a really good athlete and somehow stay with him through a route when the receiver knows exactly where he's going and what the play is when the cornerback has no idea. The time to not only process what's going on, but make a move to prevent it is in milliseconds.
Ever hear the saying about how Ginger Rogers was a better dancer than Fred Astaire because she had to do everything he did backwards? That's what cornerbacks do for full games — and, well, elite wide receivers might be slightly less cooperative dance partners.
A player who can track a receiver and track a ball in the air is something to take note of. And this is unavoidably true: Hargreaves will get beat in the air at times because of his height. I'm not saying he won't. But all corners get beat at some point: That's just a fact of the game. What you want to see is the ability and mentality to make those hiccups as few and far between as you can.
Hargreaves has that.
I sound like a homer when I write about Hargreaves; I realize this. But that's because I feel like I've been fighting a battle against people who only talk about him through stereotypes and second-hand knowledge, without actually watching the tape.
This play counters a stereotype working against Hargreaves: "He's too small to win in the red zone." When thrown perfectly, the corner fade is impossible to stop. However, it's also a very difficult throw to make. Here, the throw is just a bit off, and Hargreaves shows the ability to get up and knock it away.
An underrated skill in VH3's arsenal is his deep knowledge of his own athletic ability. He knows exactly what he can and cannot do. That play was combination of timing his jump, reaching as high as he knows he can go, and making the play.
And as for the knock on Hargreaves as a smallish corner who is likely to get pushed around or muscled off a spot too easy? Well, not exactly.
I'll be first to eat my words, Hargreaves is tougher and feistier than I gave credit. Does play physical at LOS.. pic.twitter.com/hgq4qhdWF7— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) March 22, 2016
Hargreaves is stronger — or more accurately, more tenacious — as a competitor than most draftniks have given him credit for. He's going to get overpowered on some plays by some receivers in the NFL, but, again, a lot of corners do.
It's not the limitations of Hargreaves that I have a problem accepting. It's people writing him off without watching what else he does.
Attitude is what makes a playmaker, and sometimes, making a play comes down to believing you're the baddest dude on the field, taking a risk, and executing. In the Vine above, and on multiple occasions throughout his career, Hargreaves has shown that he's not just a man corner or a lockdown corner: He's a complete corner.
If he has a shot to slow down an Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles or DeMarco Murray, he's going to take it, even if that shot leaves him laying on the field for Leonard Fournette to poke fun at afterwards.
The play above is a good example of Hargreaves showing it all. He has patience in his assignment, quick feet on the backpedal, a direct read on the quarterback's eyes, explosiveness to make the break, and the focus to reel it in.
Putting it all together is an underrated trait for a corner. A lot of these guys are fast, many have great technique, and some have a great understanding of the game. But putting it all together is what makes a top talent.
I believe Hargreaves has, and is, even with his limitations.
Draft Night Prediction
Hargreaves has had private workouts with the Cowboys, Jaguars, Ravens and Buccaneers, all teams that pick in the top 10 as of right now. And for as much nit-picking as we've heard about Vern over the last six months, most believe he has what it takes.
"While scouts have voiced some concerns about Hargreaves' size and recovery speed, you won't find anyone who doesn't admire his competitiveness and consistency of production. Hargreaves has a level of suddenness and explosiveness in his movements that should always have him near the ball. With top-notch ball skills and exceptional instincts that drew praise from Alabama's Nick Saban, Hargreaves possesses the football makeup to become a Pro Bowl cornerback."
- Lance Zierlein, NFL.com
But the big question surrounding Hargreaves all offseason hasn't been "Is he good?" The question has always been "Do you take a cornerback who will always have height and length concerns in the top half of the draft?"
My answer to that is this: If a team is set on drafting a corner, and that team wants to pick the best cornerback in the draft, it should select Hargreaves. Every draft is relative to the incoming class, and that's something I think people don't take into account. When people say, "Typically, you don't take a corner with his height in the top ten," the most important reason they say that is because the cornerback prospects previously picked in the top 10 were taller (though still good prospects, mind you).
But that pool of players isn't available this year. This is the pool they have to chose from. And I don't care if it's at No. 4 overall, No. 14 overall or No. 25 overall: If I wanted to pick the best corner in the draft, I'd take Vern.
Football is about making plays. Vernon Hargreaves III has made a lot of them, and I believe he will continue to do so in the NFL. No matter what new city Vern heads to, as long as he's on the field making plays, he's going to feel at home.