Where Are They Now: Florida Gators Legend Joe Haden

Demetrius Harvey

Joe Haden was special.

A four-star recruit out of Fort Washington (MD.), the Florida Gators took a chance once upon a time on an athlete with all the tools for success.

As a prep school athlete, Haden played quarterback and safety, a true weapon on either side of the gridiron - and he dominated. During his final season at Friendly High School, Haden carried the Patriots to a state championship, while setting a Maryland public high school career record with 7,371 yards.

So while the Gators were certainly taking a chance on the number five athlete in the country, they knew with the right coaching they could mold Haden into whatever they liked. On offense or defense.

Haden would go on to play defense in Gainesville, however, and was pretty darn good at it.

Even though Haden was likely too short to play quarterback at 5-foot-11, he still had plenty of skill, and just wasn't needed. The Gators at the time already had a quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow, Tebow would prove to be a detriment to anyone wanting to play quarterback in Gainesville.

While it never came to fruition, Haden worked out as a wildcat quarterback at practice during fall camp in 2009. Haden suggested to The Florida Times-Union at that time that he was not looking to take the job from Tebow, but only wanted to "borrow it for a second.”

Former Gators head coach Urban Meyer told ClevelandBrowns.com 2015 that what people didn't know about Haden was "how good Joe could throw the football."

Haden would go on to become the first Gators freshman in history to start opening day at cornerback, only relinquishing the position one time during that year due to an ankle injury.

In 2008 the team's investment in the young athlete proved successful, Haden was one of the best players on arguably the best team Florida has ever fielded - playing on a national championship defense that included Brandon Spikes, Carlos Dunlap, Janoris Jenkins, Will Hill, and Major Wright.

In his collegiate career, Haden tallied 218 total tackles and eight interceptions, dominating his competition and earned multiple recognitions including being named a unanimous  All-American. First-team All-SEC, and Sporting News' Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.

Upon leaving campus, Haden was selected in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. The cornerback would go seventh-overall to the Cleveland Browns, a shock to no one who watched him for the three years prior.

Haden's draft stock would actually fluctuate during the pre-draft process largely due to the 40-yard dash time he ran at the NFL Combine - 4.57 seconds -, much slower than anticipated.

After correcting the time during his pro day (4.43 seconds), there were no other questions, and Haden became the 13th player in Gators history (since 1938) to be selected in the top 10 of a professional football league draft.

The former Gators cornerback to the league by storm, becoming one of the most dominating cornerbacks in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Haden allowed only 53.2% of passes thrown his way to be completed and just two touchdowns during his rookie season, recording six interceptions.

Haden went on to start 82 games for the Browns over seven years, earning two pro-bowl nods (2013, 2014) and a second-team All-Pro honor (2013). Becoming one of the Browns' most successful defensive players of the past decade. With the Browns, Haden accumulated 377 tackles, 19 interceptions, and 101 defended passes.

Haden didn't, however, enjoy the success early in his professional career as he did in college, winning only 29 games in seven years with the Browns. For reference, in three years with the Gators Haden enjoyed 35 victories with only six losses.

Shortly prior to the 2015 season, Haden was named to the NFL's top-100 players list. Coming in at No. 23 was fitting seeing as though that's the number Haden has sported throughout his professional career.

After dealing with injuries and consistency issues throughout his career, Haden would be released by the Browns following the team's 2016 play which saw regression from multiple players, including the former Gators cornerback.

Following his release, Haden would be able to revitalize his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, signing a three-year $27 million contract. Over the past three years, Haden has started 42 games for the Steelers, tallying 148 tackles, eight interceptions, and 36 defended passes.

Last season, Haden made the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2014, back to being the player everyone thought he'd be throughout his career, finally healthy.

Now, Haden, 30, looks to continue his career as a member of the Steelers, signing a two-year $22 million contract extension in January, making him the 13th highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, according to Spotrac.com.

Following his teammate's recognition on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2010's All-Decade team, Haden released an all-decade team of his own, no longer a snub.

Haden, of course, would go on to congratulate his teammate Maurkice Pouncey on his recognition, illustrated in two simple tweets that made everyone so enamored with the all-class cornerback. While competitive, Haden remains one of the most talented and respectful players to ever wear the orange and blue.

Joe Haden was special.