Vernon Hargreaves III is going to strike while the iron is hot. The Florida Gators junior cornerback announced Monday he will enter the 2016 NFL draft:
Hargreaves has been remarkably consistent ever since his first season with Florida. He intercepted three passes during both of his freshman and sophomore years, also defending 23 passes during that stretch. As a junior, he intercepted four passes, which is all the more impressive considering how opposing quarterbacks even more so threw away from Hargreaves' side.
The Gators made tremendous strides during Jim McElwain's first season as head coach. If Hargreaves had stayed for one more year, he could've potentially collected an SEC championship and competed for a national title.
However, his draft stock is unlikely to be any higher than it is now. Putting the NFL on hold would've meant leaving a lot of money on the table right now.
Depending on whom you ask, Hargreaves is generally considered either the best or second-best cornerback in the 2016 draft class. In his November midseason rankings, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller listed Hargreaves at No. 5 on his big board, two spots ahead of Florida State's Jalen Ramsey.
Florida used a lot of zone coverage over the last three seasons, and Hargreaves is a better corner in that sort of scheme rather than playing man coverage. But that's not to say he'll run into significant issues if asked to play man coverage in the NFL.
In September 2014, ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff assessed every inch of Hargreaves' game, highlighting how the cornerback excels after the snap:
His feet are as quick -- if not quicker -- than most of the receivers he covers. His hands snap into position and his arms push as fast as his legs churn, pulling him stride-for-stride with his opponent.
"He's very instinctive, he's fast, quick," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. "But I think probably his greatest asset besides having great ability is he's a very instinctive player."
"[He's a] premier athlete who can overwhelm lesser opponents across from him with his physical talent," NFL.com's Lance Zierlein said of Hargreaves. "Good combination of size and speed that allows him the ability to take more chances than most cornerbacks can."
Hargreaves (5'11", 199 lbs) ticks almost every box on the checklist for elite-level cornerbacks coming into the league. If he can become a slightly better tackler, then he'll have all of his bases covered. Deion Sanders was a notoriously bad tackler, but he was also one of the best cover guys in NFL history. Hargreaves has a long way to go to reach that level.
For most teams, losing a player like that would leave a massive hole in the secondary going into the next season. Florida, on the other hand, can simply elevate sophomore Jalen Tabor into a more prominent role in 2016, per 247Sports' Thomas Goldkamp:
Thomas Goldkamp @ThomasGoldkamp
Again, it's not that Vernon Hargreaves isn't very good. He is. Jalen Tabor is just playing way better. #Gators https://t.co/FhWtnZKNyK2015-11-24 23:39:13
A year from now, Tabor may lead the discussion regarding the best cornerback in the 2017 draft class.
At least for a season, Hargreaves might be able to hold the title of highest-drafted Florida defensive back, with Joe Haden holding the current record at seventh overall in 2011.