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SI 50, No. 13: Vernon Hargreaves III

Vernon Hargreaves spent all season preparing like an NFL corner. The tape shows he has work left to do to join the elite.

With the 2016 NFL draft just weeks away, it’s time for all 32 teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.

The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class and explain why they’re slotted as such. As we approach the top 10, the scouting reports get deeper. We continue with a cornerback who is NFL ready, with just about everything in place for success at the next level.

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13. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
Height: 5' 10" Weight: 204

Bio: His father was a standout linebacker for UConn from 1980 through ’83, and he’s been a coach for several programs since then, so it’s entirely possible that Vernon Hargreaves III had a natural leg up when he went from Wharton High in Tampa to the Gators’s defensive backfield. In high school, Hargreaves was named the National Defensive Player of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, a finalist for the Florida Mr. Football award and the MVP of the Under Armour All-American game.

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He became a standout for the Gators as a true freshman in 2013, with 26 solo tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass breakups. His next season was even better, with the same number of picks and three more pass deflections, but his tackling was more solid and consistent, and his tape showed long stretches of lockdown play. After picking off four passes for 152 yards and added four more passes defensed last season, Hargreaves decided it was time to go pro. Some will look at his 2015 season as a relative disappointment, but Hargreaves said at the scouting combine that he was working on his technique with his NFL future in mind.

“Playing in the SEC, I’ve covered Amari Cooper, I’ve covered Odell Beckham, I’ve covered Jarvis Landry, Kelvin Benjamin. I’ve seen them all before. That’s not to say that I’m ready necessarily, but it definitely helps to have covered them before, to have tracked them before. In the NFL you can’t put your hands on them, so I’ll definitely have to work on my technique, but that’s how I approached my junior season. You can’t touch them 10 yards down the field like you could in college, so I worked on keeping my hands off guys.”

Hargreaves hopes to combine his naturally aggressive style with a more responsible level of contact common among the league’s best cornerbacks. He’s not quite there yet, but he's pretty close.

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Strengths: Freakishly agile player who crouches low in his stance to reduce unnecessary motion and springs into coverage in a flash. Exceptional stride length and quickness, turning quickly to zero in on the catch. Sets the angle on crossing routes, putting himself in a better position to catch the ball than the receiver in some cases. Quick and natural backpedal allows him to keep the action in front of him and adjust easily when contested on intermediate and deep passes. Plants and fires to the ballcarrier, reducing yards after catch. Switches gears very well—his recovery speed is among the best in this draft class. Highly aware player who obviously studies tendencies and knows where the ball is going. Plays and acts like he’s a few inches taller than he really is.

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Aggressiveness and short-area quickness make him a natural in press coverage—he gets a good punch at the line and will mirror routes from start to finish. Has no issue transitioning from press man to bail coverage, and doesn’t fall apart on comebacks and quick angles. Natural pattern-matcher when his head is in the game. Will easily drop off his assignment to help in zone coverage. Smooth tracker who stays with receivers very well through their routes, and has a natural feel for pinning opponents to the boundary with inside position. Fearless in run support—he has absolutely no compunction about throwing his body around against bigger players and loves to mix it up. Can move from centerfield or deep thirds to the line to make a tackle in the blink of an eye. Expertly hides his blitzing intentions with coverage looks and then blasts into the backfield. Baits quarterbacks well, enticing them to throw to routes he is ready to jump, and gets a ton of pass breakups this way. Has the foot movement and field awareness to play the slot. Presents value as a return man. Well-built player with a big chest and good musculature—should be able to hold up well playing as physically as he does.

Weaknesses: Hargreaves is strong for his size, but he’ll get overwhelmed at times by bigger receivers, who will push him out of the picture and win 50-50 catches. Can get killed on double moves and gives up big plays more on technique lapses than pure speed issues—per Pro Football Focus, he allowed 380 yards on 24 catches in 2015. Good speed all over the field, but isn’t always able to track with speed receivers on vertical routes. Aggressiveness is both a blessing and a curse: Hargreaves can be taken out of his assignments too easily at times, and he’ll dive for tackles when he should use correct form to stop the play. In press, he’ll sometimes be too concerned with imposing his physicality and lose the first few steps of the route, forcing him to recover. Height could be an issue as a No. 1 NFL outside cornerback. Needs work as a space player—Hargreaves has more spatial awareness when he has a target in mind, and if he’s asked to patrol the slot in the NFL, that needs fixing.

Conclusion: If Hargreaves were a couple inches taller, he would probably be a consensus top-10 pick, and better hops might have made him the top cornerback on my board. That said, he has as many tools and attributes for long-term NFL success as any defensive back in this class: speed, range, aggression, good hands and short-area quickness. If he is able to dial back his more passionate tendencies, avoid thinking too much about contact and focus on his assignment more often, Hargreaves could easily show up as an perennial Pro Bowler and a legit No. 1 shutdown guy.

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Pro Comparison: Leon Hall, Bengals (first round, 2007, Michigan)