The Florida Gators have had a litany of very impressive freshman defensive backs in their history: Lito Shepard, Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins, to name a few. While at Florida they gave a sneak peak of what you could expect in years to come when they moved on to the National Football League.
However, as strong as these three were in their careers at the University of Florida, freshman Vernon Hargreaves III has the chance to supplant these greats after only four collegiate games.
It should be no surprise that Hargreaves (5-foot-11, 192-pounds) stepped in right away for the Gators. According to Rivals.com, Hargreaves was the 2nd best player in the country in the 2013 recruiting class. He was also Most Valuable Player at the Under-Armour All-American game. Finally, according to some, Hargreaves was the most talented high school cornerback in the country as a junior in high school.
Needless to say, through four games Hargreaves has impressed. He leads the team with three interceptions (4th in the country), has six tackles, and has broken up four passes. Hargreaves, mind you, has done this behind All-SEC cornerback selections Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. Hargreaves is now considered a starter, and has been nothing short of phenomenal.
What makes Vernon Hargreaves so great? And how did I come to the conclusion, just four games into his career, that he will be the best cornerback in UF history? Let’s have pictures, animations, and analysis do the talking.
Below is the series of photos that show Hargreaves’ first career interception against Toledo. Take a close look and you will see great form, hip movement, quick backpedal and quick reaction to a throw that was almost picked off by Marcus Maye.
Hargreaves’ reaction and interception are the skills you expect to see in an upperclassman. He quickly pushes the receiver off of his route (even slight changes can alter a completion), quickly reacts to his inside cut, and then jumps the throw from the quarterback, intercepting the ball and returning it 15 yards. Hargreaves plays like a mirror against wide receivers and it is evident in this play.
Let’s take a look at his game against Miami.
This GIF shows the interception against Miami. While the ball was badly overthrown, Hargreaves shows his incredible vertical leap (38 inches) and his speed and vision as he returns the interception. While he does step out of bounds, Hargreaves shows his ability to read blockers and make fast cuts.
Hargreaves game goes well beyond just interceptions, however. In this play against Tennessee Hargreaves plays excellently against the wide receiver on a deep pass from Tennessee quarterback Nate Peterman.
Through the play, Hargreaves runs with the wide receiver from the 11-yard line to the 47-yard line, quickly reacts to the ball thrown his way, twists his hips in the air, and gets two hands on the ball, knowing that he could not intercept it he bats away so it is uncatchable.
Here is Hargreaves again making a spectacular play on a pass into the endzone.
While Hargreaves certainly has areas where he can improve and certainly he has some tougher competition coming, he is better now than both Haden and Jenkins were at the end of their freshmen years. A lot of what makes a good cornerback is not seen in the stat line, in fact, their numbers usually go down because they are not targeted. After Hargreaves interception against Kentucky in the third quarter, we rarely saw the Wildcats test his side of the field.
When you watch the Gators play Arkansas on Saturday, October 5th, watch Hargreaves mirror his receiver; watch his hips move fluidly; watch him backpedal and make quick cuts. Watch those impeccable instincts and and ultimately, enjoy watching a cornerback who should end up being the best ever at the University of Florida.
Is it a bit presumptuous? Maybe. But it is a bet I am willing to make.