Vernon Hargreaves' fortunes during his two seasons in the NFL have paralleled those of his team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As a rookie in 2016, Hargreaves went through some early struggles but finished the season strong and looked to have a lot of promising heading into 2017. Last year, however, the former University of Florida star struggled to play well consistently in the first half of the season and saw his attempts to rebound marred by injuries.
But if the Buccaneers – a team that finished strong in 2016 to build hope for the next season before slipping to 5-11 amid a good number of injuries – can bounce back as a team in 2018, so can their 2016 first-round pick.
That's exactly what General Manager Jason Licht and Head Coach Dirk Koetter believes is going to happen.
"We were very happy with Vernon after his rookie year; we thought that he was really trending up," said Licht. "Last year he had a couple setbacks and he'd be the first to tell you that. By no means are we giving up on Vernon. He's got a lot of talent. I thought there at the end of the season, before he got hurt and put on I.R. with his hamstring, that he was showing glimpses of what he was his rookie year."
What Hargreaves was in his rookie year was a typical rookie, albeit one with enough talent to go very high in the draft. When he started to put it together in the second half, thanks in large part to the coaches urging him to play more aggressively, he looked like a potential star. Along the way, he alternated between playing exclusively on the outside and filling a hybrid role in which he would move into the slot in nickel packages.
Last season, when Hargreaves struggled early on the outside, the team was just beginning to transition him into the nickel corner job when his hamstring injury knocked him out. Licht calls it an "evolving process" as to what type of role Hargreaves will fill in 2018, but Hargreaves has still gotten a lot of valuable experience at both spots and that will help the Bucs in the long run.
"The corners that can play both inside and outside, they come in handy, especially if they can play them both well," said Licht. "Those are players that every team values highly. Some guys are really good outside but can't play inside, some guys are really good inside but can't play outside, but some guys are a blend of both and those guys have their value in this league.
"Vernon fits that definition of the guy that can do both. He actually enjoys playing inside just as much as outside, so it's not a situation where he's telling us where he wants to play. He'll do anything. I had a lot of positive conversations with Vernon at the end of the year and I'm excited about where his mind is right now. I think he's going to have a pretty good year this year."
Before Hargreaves hurt his hamstring, fellow starting corner Brent Grimes missed time due to injury as well. Between those two bits of Buccaneer misfortune and some other injuries in the secondary, second-year player Ryan Smith got much more playing time at cornerback than originally expected. Grimes is a pending unrestricted free agent who has not yet made it clear if he is returning – the Bucs want him back – but the team sees plenty of potential in its two younger corners.
"Vernon Hargreaves is going to play better next year than he did this year," said Koetter. "He went through some injuries, and that gave Ryan Smith a chance to get better."