It’s been said so often that it’s very much become a cliché: The best ability is availability. And over the first three years of Vernon Hargreaves’ career he’s only finished one season healthy, and it was his first one.
Hargreaves has played in ten games total since finishing his rookie season, and started eight of those after being moved inside during the 2017 season.
He’s shown flashes of the talent which led to him being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Bucs, but those moments are mostly hard to recall due to his lack of visibility recently.
Head coach Bruce Arians has been liberal with his praise of Hargreaves, and the player himself has voiced his appreciation for all of the high hopes Arians has held for him. However, with the addition of three more defensive backs following the 2019 NFL Draft, it’s more clear now than ever before it’s time to get it right, right now.
There are nine cornerbacks listed on the Buccaneers roster currently including North Dakota State’s Jalen Allison who signed as an undrafted free-agent following the draft.
Carlton Davis, Ryan Smith, M.J. Stewart (who is expected to shift to safety), David Rivers and De’Vante Harris represent the five in addition to Hargreaves with previous NFL experience.
Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting this year’s day-two draft picks and are joined by Allison representing the rookies.
Looking at safeties, guys like Kentrell Brice, Mike Edwards, Justin Evans, and Jordan Whitehead will all enter camp as favorites to make the final 53-man roster. Linebacker Deone Bucannon is well known for his defensive back history and ability to play as a linebacker-safety hybrid.
The point is, there are a lot of guys who are going to by vying for a finite number of roster spots this fall, and they all have the physical abilities needed to contribute to the defense.
Carlton Davis appeared in thirteen games in 2018 and finished his rookie season relatively healthy. Harris played in ten games last year, the final ten. And Ryan Smith has appeared in at least fourteen games in each of his three seasons, playing in all sixteen in 2018.
As for the rookies, Dean’s college career started rough as he failed to clear medically at Ohio State before transferring to Auburn and injury his knee again prior to his first season with the Tigers.
After getting to Auburn, Dean played in fourteen and twelve games in 2017 and 2018 respectively. And then he turned in a 4.3 40-yard dash time at the Scouting Combine this February.
Murphy-Bunting appeared in 35 games over the past three years for the Central Michigan Chippewas, and looks like a guy perfectly built in frame and ability as a perimeter cornerback in an attacking 3-4 base defense.
Allison himself played in 55 games in four seasons with the North Dakota State Bison despite a knee injury scare during his senior season.
This is where the threat lies. Not in the tape, more in the lack of tape Hargreaves has produced in the past two years due to his injuries.
Fifth-year options are guaranteed only against injury. And that’s only if he’s injured when the new league year begins.
While it’s good news for Hargreaves the team picked up his option, it also places bigger pressure on him to control perhaps the one ability he really can’t control.
The bottom line is, the Buccaneers have been busy putting guys on the roster who have staying power. The ability to make a team and stay healthy enough to contribute throughout the year.
Simply put, the best cornerback standing on the sideline isn’t as good as the worst guy on the field.
They’ve drafted, signed and retained guys who have a history of staying - or in Dean’s case -getting healthy.
Injury - any injury - especially one which lands Hargreaves on the 2019 injured reserve, is without a doubt something he can’t afford if his fifth-year option will be honored and his career in Tampa Bay continued.
Coach Arians and Bowles may have high hopes and confidence in what Hargreaves can do on the field. The current roster construction tells me they just don’t have the highest confidence he can stay on that field.
And honestly, who could blame them?