Cover 3 is a weekly feature column written by PewterReport.com’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat writer Trevor Sikkema published every Tuesday. The column, as its name suggests, comes in three phases: a statistical observation, an in-depth film breakdown, and a “this or that” segment where the writer asks the reader to chose between two options.
SIKKEMA’S STAT OF THE WEEK
You have to be a little crazy to play defense in the National Football League.
Playing defense in the NFL means that you’ve played that side of the ball for most likely the last decade or more of your life, taking and dealing out hits at full speed. As you’ve grown into adulthood, so has your strength and your speed – as has the strength and speed of your competition. That means the hits got harder, and the weaker players have thinned their way out of the game.
By the time you get to the league, only the best remain. Chances are you’re not enough of a superior athlete to dominate in ways you were before. That means you have to adapt, but it also means you have to learn how to get something out of every facet of your game — the successes and the failures.
In terms of having the crazy in him, Bucs rookie cornerback Vernon Hargreaves checks that box.
Have you ever heard anyone laugh like that in your entire life? That was like something from Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker in the Batman movie The Dark Knight. And that wasn’t just a one-play thing. The Buccaneers had Hargreaves Mic’d Up for that entire game versus the Seattle Seahawks – he knew it – and he was laughing and going crazy like that all game long.
After the game, he even acknowledged it and fully embraced his unusual expression of joy.
“You know, they say I laugh like a hyena,” Hargreaves said. “I thought that was pretty funny. A few people on Instagram, they want to call me the Hyena now. Yeah, that’s cool. But everybody liked it, and I’m going to keep it up.”
Hargreaves has the crazy part within him – of that we know. He also has the successes and failures part, both the good and the bad.
The good was that Hargreaves started every single game of the Buccaneers’ 9-7 2016 season. He played the second-most snaps on defense — 1,037 out of 1,062, and was just five snaps behind team leader Lavonte David. He was named to the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie Team, and was the only Bucs player to earn the recognition. Not only that, but Hargreaves did so while playing three separate positions: boundary, field and slot corner.
That was the good, but there was also the bad.
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves and Falcons WR Julio Jones – Photo by: Getty Images
According to the NFL1000 project put on by BleacherReport, Hargreaves never graded out as a Top 20 cornerback at any point this season. He finished the year ranked as the project’s 68th-ranked corner, and was really picked on this year for coverage flaws.
Of all cornerbacks in the NFL, no player gave up more passing yards than Hargreaves (1,271) – second most was Sean Smith with 999. He yielded the most targets of any corner at 127 and subsequently gave up the most receptions with 86. He also had the 15th most routes run against him at 538 and was tied for sixth in most TDs given up with 6.
Now, some of those stats are cause and effect. For example, no cornerback was targeted more than Hargreaves, so it makes sense that he would have a lot of catches and yards given up against him. But today we’re here to go beyond the stats and answer the question: How much of all that was really his fault, or better yet, how much of it is truly concerning?
In order to assess where Hargreaves is and the kind of learning curve he’ll be on, we have to recognize within those stats which parts of his game were getting picked on, and which parts were just him being targeted because he was a rookie.
Let’s take a look.