Veron Hargreaves and Amari Cooper – Photo by: Getty Images
The last time Bucs’ cornerback Vernon Hargreaves matched up with Raiders wideout Amari Cooper was in his sophomore year at Florida when Cooper eclipsed the 200-yard mark in 2014.
Hargreaves was a young, confident corner, but Cooper was already a poised NFL talent.
The then 6-foot-1, 210-pound Alabama receiver caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three scores against Florida — a good enough for the third-best receiving performance in Alabama history at the time.
Hargreaves remembers it well.
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo courtesy of the Buccaneers
“That’s the first time I played against somebody that was better than me, that I felt like was significantly better than me and he knows that,” Hargreaves said of Cooper’s performance that day.
Despite the shock value that Cooper’s 201 yards presents, it’s only fair to look into how much blame can be put on Hargreaves.
Cooper’s first score — a 79-yard catch on a post route late in the first quarter — didn’t come against Hargreaves. Cooper lined up in the slot with a mismatch against safety Keanu Neal, who bit on the outside cut.
Cooper’s second score came on a four-yard fade route on cornerback Brian Poole late in the game.
The only score against Hargreaves came with :21 left in the third quarter to put the Crimson Tide up 28-21. It was a four-yard jump ball in the corner of the endzone where Cooper’s size overpowered 5-foot-11 Hargreaves.
“For me, I was young, I was a sophomore and at that point he was already playing like he was in the NFL,” said Hargreaves, who gave up seven catches for 85 yards and a score to Cooper in the game. “So covering him, after the game I kind of sat down and thought, ‘wow, he really got me better’ in a way if that makes sense. And he knows that.”
Since being selected with the fourth-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Cooper has amassed 1,684 yards, but after scoring four touchdowns in his first eight career games, the second-year wideout has just three in his last 15 games and only one in 2016.
Hargreaves, on the other hand, was also selected with an early first-round pick, going 11th overall to the Bucs’ in this year’s draft as the first cornerback off the board.
And the rookie hasn’t gotten much rest in his first seven games.
UF CB Vernon Hargreaves and FSU WR Kelvin Benjamin – Photo by: Getty Images
The Bucs’ secondary has faced an extensive list of top-tier receivers so far in 2016 with the likes of Julio Jones, Larry Fitzgerald, the tandem of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Saunders, and Kelvin Benjamin, who had nine catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns for Florida State against a Hargreaves-led Florida defense in 2013.
Bucs’ defensive coordinator Mike Smith said the young corner is starting to gain some swagger in his play with the secondary as a whole turning a corner.
“Well both of those guys are starting to play with swagger,” Smith said of Hargreaves and cornerback Brent Grimes. “I think Brent always has had it. He’s a little more soft-spoken, but Brent knows what he’s capable of doing. I think Vernon is finding his way, in terms of where he needs to line up and when he needs to line up there.
“I thought he did a really good job last week, not only in the pass game but he did some nice things showing up in the run game as well.”
For Hargreaves, it’s just another game with yet another dynamic receiver lining up across from him, but he looks forward to Round 2 against Cooper on Sunday in Raymond James Stadium.
“I know who he is, he knows who I am,” Hargreaves said. “We’re both excited and getting ready for a great matchup.”
Eli Apple was the first corner taken
My bad actually.Jalen Ramsey was the first corner taken then.Eli.Apple then Vernon. So Vernon actually was the third Corner taken in the draft
Ramsay is listed as a Free Safety, not a cornerback.
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