By Dan Durkin–
Editor’s note: Read more of Durkin’s Prospect Watch pieces here.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: 2 Rounds Of Severe Storms Possible Sunday
(CBS) With contact rules down the field that favor receivers, it’s essential for cornerbacks to be able to win with their feet. Being able to stay in the hip pocket of a coverage assignment either forces a quarterback to look elsewhere with the ball or fit it into a contested window.
Today we take a look at a feisty cornerback prospect with fleet feet: Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.
CB Vernon Hargreaves (5-foot-10, 204 pounds, 20, Florida)
40-yard dash: 4.5
10-yard split: 1.6
Broad jump: 10-foot-10
Arm: 30 5/8″
Bio: Hargreaves starred at Wharton High School in Tampa, Florida. He was considered the nation’s top cornerback recruit and one of the highest-rated players overall. His five-tackle, one-interception performance in the Under Armour all-American game earned him MVP honors.
Hargreaves enrolled early at Florida in 2013, which accelerated his adjustment to the college game and Will Muschamp’s scheme. As a true freshman, he shined for the Gators, appearing in all 12 contests, earning 10 starts. He finished his freshman season with 38 tackles and led the team with 11 passes broken up and three interceptions. He was named an AP third-team all-American.
In 2014, Hargreaves started each of the Gators’ 12 games. His 13 passes broken up led both the team and the SEC. He also registered 50 tackles, three interceptions and had two tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. He earned first-team all-SEC and second-team all-American honors.
This past season, Hargreaves started all 13 games that he suited up for. He missed the East Carolina game with a leg injury. He finished the season with 33 tackles, a team-high four interceptions (which he returned for a combined 152 yards) and four passes defended. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe award and a consensus all-American and first-team all-SEC selection.READ MORE: At Least 3 Killed, 25 Wounded In Weekend Shootings In Chicago
Hargreaves opted to forgo his senior season and enters the draft as a true junior. He finished his collegiate career with 37 starts, 27 passes broken up and 10 interceptions.
How he fits the Bears’ scheme: Hargreaves played both inside and outside cornerback at Florida. Given his size, short-area quickness and effortless change of direction, he projects as an immediate starter inside as a slot cornerback in sub packages.
What immediately stands out when watching Hargreaves’ tape is his twitch and explosiveness. He’s a fluid athlete with excellent footwork and a seamless transition from his backpedal to flipping his hips to turn and run with a receiver vertically.
Florida mixed up their coverage schemes, so Hargreaves played off- and press-man as well as zone. When playing off, he shows awareness of route combinations and anticipates a receivers’ break. He plays with a burst to quickly shrink any separation gained by receivers on short and intermediate routes. In press, he needs to be more physical and accurate with his one-hand jams. He doesn’t always get a good reroute, which puts him in an immediate trail position, but he has enough recovery speed to stay in phase.
Despite his height limitations, Hargreaves has outstanding ball skills and production. While he can give up plays down the field to bigger receivers, he times his jump well in 50/50 situations. He has sticky hands and typically comes up with interceptions on passes he can corral with two hands.
Hargreaves is a willing and physical participant in run support. He protects the sideline well to funnel plays back toward his help and will aggressively close at the point of attack. He can, however, give ground and be overpowered when blocked off of the line of scrimmage. He must learn how to better use his hands to rip, shed and disengage, especially when he’s giving up height, weight and length to NFL receivers.
Hargreaves is a physical player who’s willing to stick his nose in there, but his tackling technique needs work. He tends to target ball carriers high and latch and drag them to the ground or target them low without a wrap-up.
Draft projection: Hargreaves could be the best pure cover cornerback prospect in this class and should be a top-15 selection.MORE NEWS: Woman Dead After Being Stabbed On South Wacker Drive Downtown
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.