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Florida Gators in the NFL, Week 8: On DBU, VH3, and the difficulty of catching on

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Florida’s highest-drafted defensive backs haven’t always made their marks in the NFL lately. But that doesn’t mean Gators aren’t making cases for UF to be DBU.

Los Angeles Rams v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Thursday Night Football crew member Shawn Kopelakis got to thinking about DBU and UF and VH3 and surely some other acronyms last week...

The debate over which school is the one true Defensive Back University — DBU — has raged on for years. Florida, LSU, Alabama, Ohio State, and many others have all laid claim to the crown with strong cases. The Gators’ recent track record is mixed, but the highly-drafted misses definitely hurt their case.

Vernon Hargreaves III was a star in Gainesville. He had 10 career interceptions, earned All-SEC honors in each of his three seasons, and was named an All-American his sophomore and junior seasons. He was the 11th overall pick in the first round by Tampa Bay in 2016 and had a decent rookie campaign, earning PFWAA All-Rookie Team honors alongside Jalen Ramsey.

Since 2016, Ramsey and VH3 have gone decidedly separate ways.

Hargreaves battled injuries and disappointing play for the next three seasons in Tampa; eventually, the Bucs cut him in the middle of his fourth season. Houston claimed him, though, and he had spent the last few years there — until this week, when the Texans released him once again.

Hargreaves has notoriously struggled in coverage as a pro, giving up one of the highest passer ratings when targeted over the past few seasons. But he’s been on an NFL roster for years and years now — and remains rostered, as the Cincinnati Bengals claimed him on Thursday and hope he can provide depth in the secondary of their surprising defense.

In just the past few years, Hargreaves, Matt Elam, Quincy Wilson, Teez Tabor, Duke Dawson, and C.J. Henderson have left Florida and become first- or second-round picks, only to also become busts for the teams that drafted them. All except Elam are still in the league and have opportunities to make a belated impact, but time and chances are running out.

It’s not a total shutout for Florida in the secondary, either. Joe Haden is one of the deans of former Gators in the league and has had a tremendous career. Ditto Janoris Jenkins. Marcus Maye is one of the NFL’s elite safeties, though he’s now out for 2021 after an Achilles tendon tear. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has established himself as a key part of the Saints’ defense and remains first-class agitator. Keanu Neal has a Pro Bowl on his resume, and has battled back from devastating injuries with a switch to linebacker. Marcell Harris defied the odds as a sixth-round pick to make the 49ers, and is playing well in a part-time starting role.

The most recent defensive back addition to the league from UF is also one of the most pleasant surprises. Marco Wilson — Quincy’s brother — was on balance a disappointment in Gainesville, his strong freshman year fading in memory after an injury and struggles marked his upperclassman campaigns. And while he was part of one of the worst Gators defenses ever last year, his time will obviously be remembered less for some blown coverages and more for that one infamous shoe toss.

But in the NFL, he’s playing like the blue chip prospect he was touted to be coming out of high school. He has started every game he’s been healthy for this season, and in the first game of the season, he gave up only three catches to the Titans’ dynamic duo of A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.

As part of a surprising Cardinals team, he might be a cornerstone in the desert on the other side of the ball from Kyler Murray.

Player of the Week

Shockingly, Kyle Pitts had a rough game and doesn’t repeat here in this slot. Instead it’s another player I’ve been raving about the past couple weeks. Jon Greenard recorded his seventh sack of the season Sunday.

He now has a sack in four straight games and a sack in every game he’s stayed healthy in. He’s tied with Nick Bosa for seventh in the NFL, ahead of guys like Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald. And he’s doing it despite missing two full games and parts of a third with injuries and while playing a little more than half of the Texans’ defensive snaps. Unsurprisingly, he’s making the most of his time on the field according to Pro Football Focus, which has given Greenard an 84.0 grade for the season so far — the second-highest grade among second-year defenders.

Handily for us, the Texans also had him mic’d up this past week. You can see — and hear, obviously — how confident big Jon is right now.

Play of the Week

First, Ceedy Duce picked off the GOAT for his first interception of the season.

Then he gave maybe the quote of the season this week when talking about the play.

Here are all of the Week 8 stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

The Good

  • Jonathan Greenard, HOU, DE: 3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 QB hits, 1 pass defended, 41 snaps (61%)
  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, NO, S: 6 tackles, 1 INT, 1 pass defended, 59 snaps (97%)
  • Van Jefferson, LAR, WR: 3 rec, 88 yds, 56 snaps (84%)
  • Marcus Maye, NYJ, S: 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 56 snaps (100%)
  • Marcell Harris, SF, S: 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QB hit, 1 TFL, 33 snaps (47%)
  • Jabari Zuniga, NYJ, DE: 3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble, 21 snaps (38%), first game action of 2021
  • Kadarius Toney, NYG, WR: 4 rec, 26 yards, 1/1 passing, 19 yards, 1 punt return, 0 yards, 34 snaps (57%)
  • Marco Wilson, ARI, CB: 3 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 70 snaps (96%)
  • D.J. Humphries, ARI, LT: 59 snaps (100%)
  • Joe Haden, PIT, CB: 2 tackles, 1 pass defended, 59 snaps (100%)
  • Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT: 76 snaps (100%)
  • Kyle Pitts, ATL, TE: 2 rec, 13 yds, 1 tackle, 44 snaps (83%)
  • Freddie Swain, SEA, WR: 1 punt return, 20 yards, 37 snaps (65%)
  • Carlos Dunlap, SEA, DE: 1 tackle, 1 QB hit, 2 passes defended, 39 snaps (51%)
  • Alex Anzalone, DET, LB: 4 tackles, 65 snaps (100%)
  • Janoris Jenkins, TEN, CB: 4 tackles, 80 snaps (100%)
  • Jarrad Davis, NYJ, LB: 3 tackles, 38 snaps (68%)
  • Vernon Hargreaves III, HOU, CB: 7 tackles, 64 snaps (96%), cut by Texans on Wednesday, claimed by the Bengals on Thursday

The Limited

  • Evan McPherson, CIN, K: 1/1 FG, Long 21, 4/4 XP
  • Tommy Townsend, KC, P: 4 punts, 50.8 Avg
  • Demarcus Robinson, KC, WR: 1 rec, 18 yards, 33 snaps (41%)
  • Jonathan Bullard, ATL, DL: 4 tackles, 33 snaps (45%)
  • Keanu Neal, DAL, LB: 1 tackle, 23 DEF snaps (35%), 9 ST snaps (30%)
  • Lerentee McCray, JAX, OLB: 1 tackle, 3 DEF snaps (5%), 22 ST snaps (96%)
  • Teez Tabor, CHI, S: 18 DEF snaps (32%), 14 ST snaps (52%), no stats
  • La’mical Perine, NYJ, RB: 1 rush, 3 yards, 6 OFF snaps (7%), 6 ST snaps (21%), first touch of 2021
  • Taven Bryan, JAX, DE: 1 tackle, 16 snaps (28%)
  • Tyrie Cleveland, DEN, WR: 1 tackle, 11 ST snaps (58%)
  • T.J. Slaton, GB, DT: 1 tackle, 6 snaps (10%)
  • Feleipe Franks, ATL, QB: 5 OFF snaps (9%), 4 ST snaps (15%)
  • Fred Johnson, CIN, G/T: Active but DNP
  • Jeff Driskel, HOU, QB: no snaps

The Inactive

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., ATL, OLB: Injured Reserve
  • Max Garcia, ARI, C: DNP (Achilles)
  • Trent Brown, NE, RT: DNP (calf)
  • Jonotthan Harrison, NYG, OL: DNP (Achilles)
  • C.J. Henderson, CAR, CB: DNP (shoulder)
  • Kyle Trask, TB, QB: Inactive
  • Stone Forsythe, SEA, T: Inactive
  • Duke Dawson, DEN, CB: Designated to return from injured reserve this week
  • Johnny Townsend, FA, P: Signed to Texans’ practice squad Saturday, released Wednesday