Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Former UF, Wharton standout Hargreaves confident entering NFL

INDIANAPOLIS — Vernon Hargreaves believes he is the best cornerback coming out of college in the nation, certainly the best in the NFL draft.

The only question might be whether the former Florida and Wharton High standout is the best defensive back in the state.

Jalen Ramsey, the former Florida State star, is projected to be a top-five selection, further fueling the rivalry between the schools.

"It's great. We don't really talk about it," Hargreaves, 20, said Saturday at the NFL scouting combine, "but we see the stuff, and it's kind of like the silent rivalry between us. He's going to say he's the best, he wants to be first. I want to be first. That's what football is all about. That's what it's supposed to be about, and we're going to go to work Monday."

That's when defensive backs will be put through drills at the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Some numbers already are not in Hargreaves' favor.

He was measured at 5 feet, 10½ inches, close enough to his listed height of 5-11 with an arm length of 30⅝ inches. But scouts might look at his size and wonder how he will match up against the NFL's biggest receivers. But Hargreaves hasn't been looked down on by anyone in the Southeastern Conference.

"Playing in the SEC, I've covered Amari Cooper, I've covered Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, you know, (and former FSU standout) Kelvin Benjamin. I've covered them before, I've seen them before," said Hargreaves, a consensus first-team All-American and All-SEC in his final season at UF. "Not to say I'm ready necessarily, but it definitely helps to have covered them before, to have tracked them before, and it's definitely an incentive. I couldn't get my hands on them then, so I've definitely had to work on my technique, and that's kind of how I approached my junior season. You can't touch them 10 yards down the field like you can in college, but that's why I've worked to keep my hands off guys."

Hargreaves had a great junior season for the Gators, recording 31 tackles with four interceptions, four passes defensed and a forced fumble. He has incredible instincts and natural ball skills, but scouts would like to see him be more physical in press coverage. Against Alabama in the SEC title game, Hargreaves had five tackles but was beaten for some big plays downfield.

Aside from the 41-7 Citrus Bowl loss to Michigan, when the entire team really didn't show up, Hargreaves lived up to his reputation. He had an interception in a win against Georgia. He forced a fumble by 6-foot-1, 230-pound running back Leonard Fournette in a loss at then-No. 2 LSU. He had six tackles and a pick in an upset win over then-No. 3 Ole Miss.

"My ball skills, they're natural," Hargreaves said. "There's nothing I've really done. When the ball is in the air, I've got to go get it. That's my mind-set. I don't really care who I'm covering. When the ball is in the air, it's 50-50.

"I guess entering my junior season, kind of seeing things on ESPN but more just (having) the confidence in myself, I said I was the best corner in college football. I had to live up to that. I felt like I did. And my confidence is extremely high. It always has been, and I never doubt myself."

Certainly, the Bucs could use secondary help. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith will try to salvage the careers of cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Alterraun Verner, who made the Pro Bowl at Tennessee under defensive backs coach Brett Maxie, now in that same position with Tampa Bay.

If the elite edge pass rushers are off the board before the Bucs select No. 9 overall in the April 28 draft — a good possibility — the team might use its pick on a cornerback, and Hargreaves should be available.

"I like the mock drafts. I like seeing what other people think," he said. "I look at them. I like them. And I like it when they have me going back to the Bucs, going back to my hometown. All my boys always text me when they see it. It's fun."

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