Friday, December 15, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Bucs draft former Gators star Vernon Hargreaves (w/video)

TAMPA — The first time Vernon Hargreaves slipped on his NFL hat was at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago on Thursday night. He was dressing for a homecoming game.

Hargreaves, the Gators ball-hawking cornerback who played at Wharton High School, fulfilled a personal dream when he was selected No. 11 overall by the Bucs in the NFL draft.

"I'm excited to be back home," Hargreaves said. "It's surreal. I don't know what to feel right now. I'm super excited and kind of ready to get started.

"Of course, it doesn't get better than this, being drafted by your home team. I live 40 minutes from the facilities and I'm able to see my mom when I want to now. It's great."

Tampa Bay traded down two spots from No. 9 to No. 11, picking up the Bears' fourth-round pick in the process, No. 106 overall.

Chicago took Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd and the Giants followed by selecting Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple. Hargreaves said he had been warned by his agent the Bucs may trade down a few spots.

"So when they actually traded back, that's when my heart dropped," Hargreaves said. "Because he turned out to be right."

Considered perhaps the best pure cover cornerback in the draft, Hargreaves provides the Bucs with help in a secondary that was a sieve last season. Opposing quarterbacks completed 70 percent of their passes and threw 31 touchdown passes in 2015.

Hargreaves grew up in Miami before starting high school in North Carolina. When his dad, Vernon Jr., took a job as the defensive ends and special teams coordinator for USF in 2010, Hargreaves started calling Tampa Bay home.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter, who is the son of a football coach, admitted he's biased toward players with similar backgrounds. Hargreaves' dad is a linebackers coach at Arkansas but his mom still lives in Tampa.

"I'm biased in that respect," Koetter said. "That's something in college I believed in. When we were recruiting, it seemed like coaches' sons always fared a little better in the football smarts department. We'll see if that's true.'

Almost from the start of the offseason, the Bucs and Hargreaves seemed to be running toward each other with open arms. Hargreaves had cleats custom-made for the NFL scouting combine in February with ''Tampa'' written on the side.

"I asked him if he was ready to be a Buc,'' general manager Jason Licht said. "He said, 'Are you kidding me?' "

The Bucs had more than a casual presence at Florida's pro day. Licht watched closely as defensive backs coach John Hoke led Hargreaves in position drill.

Some teams had concerns about Hargreaves vital measurements. He is only 5 feet 10, has 315/8-inch arms and runs 4.5 in the 40-yard dash.

But when the Bucs turned on the tape from his career at Florida, they saw a player with 10 career interceptions who has been battle tested in the SEC by elite receivers such as Amari Cooper and Odell Beckham.

"Great players come in a lot of different packages," Licht said. "We feel his thickness and his build, he's a sturdy player. He can press, he can tackle, he's an athletic player and he has very good ball skills.

"You can ask (5-10 current Buc) Brent Grimes if lack of height has affected his career. You can ask (5-10 five-time Pro Bowl Buc) Ronde Barber if lack of height affected his career … there's been a lot of Pro Bowl corners — a lot — that have been his size."

Koetter said the player Hargreaves most resembles is Grimes, a four-time Pro Bowl player who played for new defensive coordinator Mike Smith in Atlanta.

"One of the things Jason does is we do comparable players," Koetter said. "And this guy has got excellent plant and drive, he's quick, he's tough, he can play off, he can play press, he can play support in the run. He can play on both sides, possibly play inside at nickel when he gets here, we'll see. ''

Hargreaves, 20, is likely to emerge as a day one starter opposite Grimes and add to a secondary that includes cornerbacks Johnthan Banks, Alterraun Verner and Vikings free agent Josh Robinson.

Tampa Bay had a strong presence at his pro day; Licht watched as secondary coach Jon Hoke led Hargreaves' position drills. In fact, what Licht said he liked about Hargreaves is that he has an ego and a short memory, two key components for an NFL cornerback.

"I have confidence and I'm not afraid to show it," Hargreaves said. "I'm very confident in myself and in my abilities and that's how I carry myself. I carry myself to a high standard."

With the Bucs, Hargreaves will renew a battle with an old rival, former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

"Good ol' Florida State-Florida rivalry," Hargreaves said. "Hopefully I can get him a few times in practice."

And take it to the house, which happens to be just a few miles away.

 
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