Anytime a player who was a first-round NFL Draft selection only a few short years ago is released by a team, the chatter starts.
"Should (insert team name) sign him?"
Such is the case for cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who on Tuesday was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers only a few years after they selected him with the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
When it comes to Hargreaves, a former University of Florida standout defender and one of the more highly regarded cornerback prospects entering the draft over the last few seasons, the question arises of what team he would make sense for next.
Looking at Hargreaves through the lens of the Jacksonville Jaguars, their team needs, and his NFL performances compared to those already in Jacksonville's secondary, we hope to answer the question of should the Jaguars (4-5) sign Hargreaves.
Why signing Hargreaves would make sense
Let's start off with why adding Hargreaves to Jacksonville's roster would be a sensible decision. By all accounts, the weakest spot in the Jaguars' cornerback room is its depth, primarily at the nickel spot.
D.J. Hayden has been perhaps Jacksonville's best defensive back this season, but he has also suffered a number of injuries over the last several weeks. He has only missed one game because he has otherwise been able to tough it out on Sunday's, but having a suitable backup for him should be a priority for Jacksonville.
Jacksonville's primary plan B at nickel corner has been Breon Borders. Borders only played a few snaps here and there until Week 9, where he stood in for an injured Hayden in Jacksonville's 26-3 loss to the Houston Texans. Borders played every defensive snap against Houston, but he was picked on quite a few times by Deshaun Watson and it was a clear dropoff from Hayden to Borders.
When considering his production, Hargreaves has done more than Borders, but that is mostly because of the chances he has gotten as a former first-round pick. He played in 35 games during four seasons in Tampa Bay, making 33 starts, recording 164 tackles, 19 passes defended, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and one defensive touchdown.
Hargreaves was perhaps at his best when in the slot in Tampa Bay, so adding him as a depth piece to provide insurance for Hayden would make quite a bit of sense. With that said, Hargreaves has said in the past that he prefers playing on the outside, though it is clear that he will do whatever is asked by him of his coaches.
Why signing Hargreaves wouldn't make sense
The main reasons why Hargreaves would not make much sense for Jacksonville, outside of maybe adding him as a role player who the team won't use much? He simply has not been as good as their top three cornerbacks.
To put Hargreave's production compared to Hayden's, A.J. Bouye's, and Tre Herndons into the proper context, we looked at what the advanced statistics and production say about each player in 2019. We used Sports Info Solutions for each stat.
In 2019, here is how each cornerback has performed and what it means in terms of if Jacksonville should sign Hargreaves:
- Allowed 39 completions on 58 targets (67.2% completion rate).
- Allowed 554 yards in coverage.
- Allowed three touchdowns.
- Recorded three pass breakups and one interception.
- Missed nine tackles (18.4% missed tackle rate).
- Allowed 32 receptions on 50 targets (64% completion rate).
- Allowed 425 yards in coverage.
- Allowed one touchdown.
- Recorded four pass breakups and one interception.
- Missed six tackles (13% missed tackle rate).
- Allowed 22 receptions on 45 targets (48.9% completion rate).
- Allowed 348 yards in coverage.
- Allowed two touchdowns.
- Recorded four pass breakups and two interceptions.
- Missed six tackles (15% missed tackle rate).
- Allowed 10 receptions on 19 targets (52.6% completion rate).
- Allowed 89 yards in coverage.
- Allowed zero touchdowns.
- Recorded three pass breakups and zero interceptions.
- Missed four tackles (14.3% missed tackle rate).
So when it comes down to how each player has performed in the NFL this season, Hargreaves is the clear worst performer of the four cornerbacks. Despite Herndon drawing the ire of many following the Jalen Ramsey trade, he, in particular, has had a much better season than Hargreaves in 2019.
As for the point that Hargreaves would not be signed to step in for any of these players and would instead be a depth choice, that is a fair and valid point. The counter-argument is that Borders has been in the Jaguars' system for much longer, while Hargreaves would likely only have the next seven weeks or so to learn the scheme and impress Jacksonville.
Hargreaves has had a bumpy NFL career so far and for the most part, it does not look like he is a quality starter at cornerback. With that said, a change of scenery can often help a player.
Hargreaves would make zero sense for Jacksonville to sign as a contributor. But as a backup to Hayden? That makes much more sense. He is likely a better option than Borders, even though the timing of his release would not give him much cushion to learn the scheme and leave an impression on Jacksonville's staff.