Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida (5-11, 199): Underclassman. Three years, three All-American seasons. Hargreaves was a third-team All-American as a true freshman in 2013 and a first-team All-American as a sophomore. As a junior, he intercepted four passes and broke up four others to earn unanimous All-American honors. His 2015 production ran his three-year total to 10 interceptions and 32 additional breakups. Hargreaves has been around football throughout his life. His dad, Vernon Hargreaves Jr., coached linebackers at the University of Miami for the first eight years of his life. Not only did he know guys like Ed Reed and Sean Taylor, but Vince Wilfork used to be a baby-sitter. His father never pushed him into football or made it his job to coach his son. "He's strictly my dad," the younger Hargreaves says. "I appreciate that the most. He lets me learn for myself. I feel like that's why I am who I am today." He was schooled by Alabama’s Amari Cooper in 2014. That game was key in Hargreaves’ development, he said. This season, Hargreaves received a metal bracelet inscribed with a fallen soldier’s name, rank and date of death. He was serving in Afghanistan. “Coach always tells us that we have an impact on other people, but it's kind of hard to believe when you don't see it,'' Hargreaves said. “But this is proof that it goes way deeper than we all know. It definitely touched me because I know it meant something to him. I knew this really meant something to him.”
De’Vante Harris, Texas A&M (5-11, 175): Harris intercepted two passes, including a pick-six, and broke up eight others during his senior season. "Press-man is my game. I love that," Harris said before the season. "You don't have too many responsibilities, just go after the man in front of you. We are going to switch it up and play a little cover-2 every once in a while, but other than that we are straight on mano y mano. You know what I'm saying? I love that." He added 29 tackles (23 solos) — down significantly from 56 tackles as a sophomore and 53 as a junior — as teams mostly shied away from throwing his direction. Harris intercepted five passes for his career and broke up 24 others. Harris’ father, Rod Harris caught 87 passes for 1,395 yards and was a record-setting kickoff returner from 1985 through 1988 before playing four seasons in the NFL.
Xavien Howard, Baylor (6-1, 200): Underclassman. Howard was an all-Big 12 selection in each of his final two seasons, with five interceptions and 10 passes broken up in 2015 and four interceptions and 13 passes broken up in 2014. As a reserve cornerback during his redshirt freshman season, them-teammate Demetri Goodson (now with the Packers) predicted Howard would be a first-round pick. That probably won’t happen but he was the X-factor for the Bears in the pass-happy Big 12. “If you can find a DB with really good ball skills, then they’ll have potential to make a lot of plays for you because they’re going to be around the ball a bunch,” coach Art Briles said. “I think that’s what separates him besides his physical ability and his stature. He’s a big guy. He’s probably a little over 6-foot, right at 200 pounds, and can run. That’s why he’s our lockdown guy and has done well the last couple years.”
William Jackson III, Houston (6-1, 195): Last January, Jackson reportedly was turning pro. That turned out to be an erroneous report — much to the chagrin of opposing quarterbacks. After spending 2012 at a junior college, Jackson broke into the starting lineup late in the 2013 season. As a senior, he intercepted five passes and broke up 18 others. Those 23 total passes defensed set a school record and led the conference. He was second-team all-conference. In his final game, he was selected MVP of the Peach Bowl with two interceptions vs. Florida State. He was teammates at Houston’s Wheatley High School with Baylor’s Xavien Howard.
Cyrus Jones, Alabama (5-10, 196): Jones played receiver as a true freshman before moving to cornerback for his final two seasons. He was a part-time starter as a sophomore before moving into full-time duty for his final two seasons. As a junior, he had three interceptions and 13 pass breakups and two forced fumbles. As a senior, he had two interceptions, seven pass breakups and two more forced fumbles. He’ll bring immediate value on special teams. As a senior, he averaged 12.6 yards per punt return and set the school’s single-season record with a FBS-leading four punt-return touchdowns. The last of those came in a playoff romp of Michigan State. His wristbands say “Baltimore and area code “410.” “I think where I come from definitely plays a part in how I carry myself, the way I think,” Jones said. “In Baltimore, you gotta earn everything you get. Ain’t nobody gonna give nothing to you and that’s the way I carry myself, the way I go about playing, the way I go about life.” He says he has little-man’s syndrome. During the spring, he was arrested and charged with third-degree misdemeanor domestic violence. Charges were dropped a couple days later because it was Jones who called the police to “de-escalate the situation.”
Jonathan Jones, Auburn (5-9, 178): Jones was second-team all-SEC in each of his two seasons in the starting lineup. As a senior, Jones had one interception and broke up 12 others. He added 69 tackles (45 solos), 1.5 TFLs and a forced fumble. Plus, he was a semifinalist for the Senior CLASS Award. Jones had a breakout junior year, with his six interceptions ranking second in the SEC. As a sophomore, he missed the first four games with a broken ankle sustained when he slipped on a wet step. At Carrollton (Ga.) High School, he was the national champion in the 110-meter high hurdles, and won the 110- and 300-meter hurdles at the Georgia state track meet. He showed off that speed at the Senior Bowl. Said Senior Bowl executive director and former NFL GM Phil Savage: “When I spoke to the NFL scouts that I lean on in terms of trying to vet the candidates, when you talk about Jonathan Jones they're like, 'He's intriguing because he can fly.' So I think that's the thing that may not necessarily negate the physical shortcomings, but it gives him a chance.”
Harlan Miller, Southeastern Louisiana (6-0, 182): As a senior, Miller led the team with four interceptions and 10 pass breakups. He is a two-time FCS All-American and a three-time all-Southland Conference selection. His 11 career interceptions rank fourth in school history. He beat the odds to get to the Senior Bowl and, likely, the NFL. He was a small-town quarterback who didn’t play cornerback until college. “We really got one red light,” Miller said. “You play basketball or play football. That’s about it.”
Eric Murray, Minnesota (5-11, 198): Murray was a three-year starter and three-year all-Big Ten selection. During his final two season, he put up identical numbers of one interception and seven pass breakups. As a senior, he forced three fumbles, added four tackles for losses and was named the team’s Carl Eller Defensive Player of the Year. Other than Minnesota, Murray had no scholarship offers despite being an all-state performer at Milwaukee’s Riverside High School. So, he took the offer, even though he wanted to play receiver. His rise from unheralded recruit to team leader was used in a Golden Gopher Fund recruiting pitch.
Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State (5-11, 173): Peterson was first-team all-Big 12 as a senior with one interceptions, six pass breakups and 4.5 tackles for losses. Peterson was a three-year starter, with two interceptions among a team-high 13 passes defensed as a junior, and two interceptions and six pass breakups as a sophomore. "Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown really showed that once you get to this level, everybody is on the same field," Peterson said. "What are you going to do to put yourself above people? Are you going to ride with the crowd or do you want to set yourself apart? They told me that the first day I got here and I got hungrier and hungrier." At Wagoner (Okla.) High School, he was a state champion in the 100 and 200 meters. Peterson is from Lake Charles, La. They fled as Hurricane Rita barreled into town in 2005 and never went back. “It was unreal,” Peterson’s dad said when he went back to Lake Charles to see the state of their home. “In the neighborhood, you could tell the direction that the wind was blowing by looking at the houses. The house we lived in, the front half of the house, the roof was ripped off. The neighbor in front of me, it was the back part of his house that ripped off.” The event forced Peterson to grow up in a hurry. “Everybody’s a hero when there’s no bullets flying,” his dad said. “When the bullets start flying in is when you find out what you’re made of. My kids have always responded. They always have."
Jimmy Pruitt, San Jose State (6-0, 203): Pruitt intercepted three passes for the second consecutive season and broke up seven others as a senior, when he was named honorable-mention all-WAC. He added 53 tackles (46 solos), four tackles for losses and one forced fumble. Pruitt, who started four games as a freshman and never left the lineup, concluded his career with eight interceptions, 28 breakups and six forced fumbles. He went to Helix High School in San Diego, the same school that produced Reggie Bush, Alex Smith and Bill Walton.
ALSO IN THIS SERIES
Cornerbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Cornerbacks, Part 2
Cornerbacks, Part 3
Outside linebackers, Part 1
Outside linebackers, Part 2
Outside linebackers, Part 3 (FREE)
Inside linebackers, Part 1
Inside linebackers, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive ends, Part 1
Defensive ends, Part 2
Defensive tackles, Part 1 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 3 (FREE)
Offensive tackles, Part 1
Offensive tackles, Part 2
Offensive guards, Part 1 (FREE)
Offensive guards, Part 2 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 1 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 2 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 2
Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 2 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 3 (FREE)
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.