At times it feels like people forget that Vernon Hargreaves III was a true freshman last season. The young defensive back was able to make a flawless transition from playing high school ball to starting in Florida’s secondary in no time. Hargreaves intercepted a pass in each of his first two games and is widely considered one of the top corners in all of college football.
While Hargreaves made it look easy, this rapid evolution doesn’t happen often. In fact, it’s almost unfair to expect it from other players just because somebody has done it in the past. There’s a reason redshirts exist in college football.
But with a young secondary, Florida is in a position to try their luck once again with a cornerback fresh out of high school. His name is Jalen Tabor, and there’s a pretty good chance he is starting on the opposite side of Hargreaves once the season begins. He’s another highly recruited player and in large part thanks to Hargreaves, the expectations are through the roof.
Will Muschamp and the rest of the coaching staff have praised the young corners throughout camp. Still, making strides in shorts and a helmet in April is different than being asked to cover Amari Cooper for 60 minutes.
Can lightning really strike twice?
Absolutely. In fact, I’m not sure how it doesn’t work out for the Gators. Unlike Hargreaves, Tabor has elite size for the position at 6’1”, terrific length and is as physical as they come. Hargreaves relies a lot more on his explosiveness, quick hips and top-notch close-in speed to make plays. Basically, Florida will have the best of both worlds with the two on the field.
The thing that really sticks out to be when watching Tabor is his physicality. He loves to jam guys at the line of scrimmage, knock them off their routes and really rough them up.
Here you see Tabor forcing a receiver towards the sideline with his size and a little bit of legal hand action. Tabor knows the sideline is an extra defender and will require the quarterback to make a perfect throw to complete the touchdown. Of course, the pass was incomplete, as the receiver had little chance with this coverage.
One of the underrated parts of Tabor’s game are his instincts, as he’s able to diagnose plays quickly and has a solid natural feel for the game.
Before the quarterback has even secured the snap, Tabor already knows that this is a pass towards the slot receiver. He’s already breaking on the ball and planning to make the tackle, pretty much ignoring his assignment.
Can Jalen Tabor be as good as Vernon Hargreaves?
He blew up the play so quickly, the receiver had absolutely no chance of blocking him and it resulted in a loss on the play. These quick decisions and ability to read the offense prove that’s he’s already ahead of the curve and can be a confident starter for the Gators this season.
So, is Tabor the next Hargreaves?
Those are certainly big shoes to fill, especially considering he led the Gators with three interceptions and 11 pass deflections. Keep in mind that was with other talented defensive backs such as Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs on the roster. However, Tabor is an extremely polished corner and has a truckload of upside.
Let's just say the Gators will have the best cornerback tandem in college football if those unreal expectations are met this season.