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.

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Trevor Sikkema is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat reporter and NFL Draft analyst for PewterReport.com. Sikkema, an alumnus of the University of Florida, has covered both college and professional football for much of his career. As a native of the Sunshine State, when he's not buried in social media, Sikkema can be found out and active, attempting to be the best athlete he never was. Sikkema can be reached at: [email protected]
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jshumaker
3 years ago

Trevor, I thought that was one of your better articles. I felt I was able to understand all of the points you were making.

The defense started to play much better around the time that Hargreaves started making plays. Plus the Bucs needed help in the secondary. Therefore I think the guy was the right pick.

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eddy1timeinla
3 years ago
Reply to  jshumaker

I’m glad to see someone actually break down film and point this out. At the end of the season when Hargreaves was getting all these accolades I was scratching my head. Every game I watched when a big play was made against I made a point to know who the week link was and #28 was always there, on the ground or behind the receiver. Granted he’s a rookie and has a learning curve but I fail to understand how the coaching staff put him in as a starter and against teams best receivers after constantly getting burned. As to… Read more »

jongruden
3 years ago

I didn’t like the selection of Hargreaves last yr and was burned on regular basis most of the yr but he is a rookie and he was showing improvement so that’s my take

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nitey
3 years ago

Trevor, another excellent article. I also was not a great fan of the pick but felt that it was more needs driven than the best player available. However, I do think we will eventually get All-Pro play out of Hargreaves. I did notice that he was getting better as the year went on, but his regression against Carolina was disappointing. Still, I really think the kid is willing to put in the work and effort to get better. I do think he can get up to Brent Grimes ability eventually, so really, that’s not bad. I’m satisfied with the current… Read more »

nitey
3 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema

Pretty sure Verner is going to be released, but the fact that they haven’t yet just means to me that they haven’t got his replacement lined up yet (much as the Doug Martin move). It is possible that Verner renegotiates to a lower contract, but my guess is that he wants to be released and move to another team that will give him a chance to be a starter. I suspect they will look for someone else in FA as a value signing to replace him.

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nitey
3 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Sikkema

Also, would love to see you do a Cover 3 article on Jabrill Peppers. Some draft sites have us selecting him and as a UoM grad I’ve seen every one of his games and would be thrilled with the choice. However, I do see the reason why many Buc fans are reluctant to embrace the player. Peppers is a dynamic playmaker that has played at almost every defensive and offensive position during his years at Michigan. I have seen him play cornerback, both safety positions and linebacker on defense, running back, wide receiver and quaterback on offense. He’s also a… Read more »

stlbucsfan
3 years ago

As a Gators fan I didn’t like the selection last year because of how he performed in marquee match ups at Florida and I saw nothing last year to change that. The Bucs would have been better off selecting Eli Apple instead of trading back as he had the better year. Hargreaves did improve as the year went on but was the only CB to give up over 1000 yards last season, so anything would be considered “improvement.” He could of course continue to improve and become a solid contributor but he doesn’t have the size to handle big receivers… Read more »

stlbucsfan
3 years ago

Rankins would have been better, Tunsil would have been better even with the gas mask picture and even Artie Burns selected 25th by Pittsburgh had a better season. I know Mike Smith’s scheme calls for smaller CBs that can backpedal but let’s learn something from the Lovie experience and select guys WORTH the selection and not just guys that are “scheme fits”

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stlbucsfan
3 years ago
Reply to  stlbucsfan

Just concerns me because I think anyone who wanted to see VHIII limitations saw them. Yet we still over drafted him with better players on the board and positions that could certainly use improvement, hell there were better CBs left. Then our 2nd round grade on Mr. Aguayo, I sure hope they have tightened up the evaluation process this year and hit on the early round picks.

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Iowabucfan
3 years ago

I am happy with VHIII. I thought he had a tremendous impact in the San Diego game. He tipped the pass that David picked off and scored a touchdown. That play changed the momentum of the game. Plus, that was the game that Hump got a concussion. So VHIII fielded punts the rest of the game. There may not have been any spectacular returns, but, there were no muffs or turnovers.
Trevor, excellent article. I learned a lot and appreciate your insight.
Go Bucs!!!!

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BUC 727
3 years ago
Reply to  Iowabucfan

Wow, so much hate on this board for the young man. Especially surprising from Gators. I just say this. He played almost every snap. He played inside and outside and special teams. His learning curve was steep. He had to learn so much, so fast. He has great coaching and a perfect mentor in Brent Grimes. Just give the kid a chance before you judge him. I love his work ethic and he his smart. Sorry for being so simplistic…but this football, not rocket science.

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Iowabucfan
3 years ago
Reply to  BUC 727

Well said

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cgmaster27
3 years ago

Wasn’t a big fan of the pick when it happened as the games that I watched him , he struggled. Especially against guys bigger than him. Grimes has the ability to play bigger than he is and I hope he instills that in Vernon. I like the kids passion and fire and rookie DB has to be the toughest transition of all outside QB I would think. He will struggle in our divisional games though as he’s just not tall enough. I know Mike Smiths defenses call for guys of that size but man , sometimes you just aren’t tall… Read more »

William
3 years ago

Overdrafted a player with late first to second round talent…. But the bigger issue is that it appears buccaneers have a leak in the personel department when it comes to drafts since Licht arrival… Over the the last few years every outlet has been naming the bucs first round pick a month out from the draft with 100% accuracy.. I refused to believe my bucs would spend a 1st on a 5’10 corner with average speed but ESPN sure had it pegged

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bEubanks11
3 years ago
Reply to  William

Wasn’t hard to see what our biggest need was and deduct that the number one player in that category would be gone by time we picked. To suggest there’s a leak based on that information is ridiculous. On a team with a ton of 5’10” corners VH3 is already the second best against the pass and best at run support. So he fit the need, the scheme and projected availability in our draft position… I don’t understand?

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Naplesfan
3 years ago
Reply to  William

I don’t get the “over-drafted” remarks at all .. in fact I reject them. VHIII was a unanimous All America his last year at Florida … and in his rookie season makes the All Rookie team. His learning curve had a very big part to play in the overall defensive learning curve for the season. How can someone expect a rookie to immediately start against the very best WRs in the league, with little to no help at all from our inury-depleted defensive line that positively sucked the first half of the season, putting the entire load on the back… Read more »

scubog
3 years ago
Reply to  Naplesfan

Some folks just don’t get it Naples. They have some misconception that a rookie drafted in the first round should be an instant star…………and should never suffer injury. It’s the reason some called McCoy a bust after his first season. Like many first round choices, Hargreaves had all of the qualities in college that warranted his high ranking. He certainly was not a reach or “over-drafted” last year. He started as a rookie and kept a former Pro-Bowl player (Verner) on the bench for crying out loud. As you said, the time-frame for success can be affected by the player’s… Read more »

GoldsonAges
3 years ago

I think your comment at the bottom of page 2 pretty much summed up how I feel about the pick. The Bucs have a ‘type’ of cb that they like and Hargreaves fits that type. Grimes, Elliot, and Jude. Two undrafted players and an old free agent. So why did we waste a 1st round pich on a player with such little value that you can find a similar player in the pool of undrafted players? As much as I hated the pick, if it was between VH3 and Rankins, I am glad they drafted VH3. In truth there was… Read more »

bEubanks11
3 years ago

I didn’t like the pick originally and still feel there was much more impactful players avaliable. But now that we have him and I see his tenacity, his love for the game and his team oriented rapport that he’s building with his buccaneers family. I see a guy that will be around for a very long time just like another undersized CB that made an ever lasting mark on this franchise. I see a guy that’ll have big plays for us in key moments just as Ronde did. VH3, when it’s all said and done, I believe will go down… Read more »

scubog
3 years ago

After having the chance to watch Hargreaves a lot in college I wasn’t too keen on drafting him until I heard from a Gator that he played with some type of injury his last year at UF. As a rookie I thought he did fairly well. At least he played. Some newbies rarely even see the field. He has the athleticism and seems to have the willingness to put in the work to sharpen his mental approach. He should take a lesson or two from #20, who wasn’t much his rookie year when there were comparisons to Rod “Toast” Jones.… Read more »

bodydenny
3 years ago

The whole situation reminds me of Ronde Barber. Remember there were people absolutely declaring Barber a bust for 2-3 years before It all clicked. Hargreaves looks to be ahead of Barber at this point but still a long way to go.

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chetthevette
3 years ago
Reply to  bodydenny

Good point

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eddy1timeinla
3 years ago

I’m glad to see someone actually break down film and point this out. At the end of the season when Hargreaves was getting all these accolades I was scratching my head. Every game I watched, when a big play was made against us #28 was always there, on the ground or behind the receiver getting burned. Granted he’s a rookie and has a learning curve but I fail to understand how the coaching staff put him in as a starter week in and week out after he consistently would get burned. I figured they must know something I don’t know… Read more »