Saturday Spotlight: Draft Prospects To Watch Week 7
Q: How is the Florida secondary like Obamacare?
A: Everyone's covered.
I could've gone the other way. How is the Florida secondary like the Tea Party? They shut down everything.
But that one was too easy. And nothing is easy against the Florida secondary. They force you into difficult, if not impossible, decisions, like which strained topical pun to go with.
I'm talking about the Florida secondary as a whole and not just the Gators cornerbacks, because, truth be known, they have NFL cornerbacks playing all over the field.
Take senior Jaylen Watkins. He's the only Florida defensive back to start every game this season -- three at cornerback, two at safety. He's probably a top-15 cornerback prospect, but he's an afterthought on the Gators roster. Which isn't easy to do for the leading tackler on the nation's No. 2 defense. Two weeks ago against Kentucky, he started his second game of the season at safety; Watkins made a career-best 10 tackles. With the emphasis NFL schemes place on positional versatility these days, that Kentucky game may have locked up a Day Two pick for Watkins.
Of course, there are the two first-round corners slated to start Saturday against LSU, Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. Technically, they haven't started a game together this season, though they are listed as the team's top two corners on the depth chart. Roberson's missed the last three games with a knee injury and is expected back to face the Tigers.
Purifoy is regarded as the more natural, instinctive athlete between the two. Fast, fluid and aggressive around the ball, Purifoy also was considered the more raw of the two coming into the season, pehaps too reliant on athleticism and not enough on football savvy. If last week against Arkansas is any indication, Purifoy is learning the ropes at his position -- he was named Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week for the best statistical day of his career to date. He had a forced fumble, three pass breakups, his first career sack and, astonishingly, the first interception of his career, which he returned for a touchdown.
While Purifoy seems to be developing in the mold of a classic cover corner, Roberson might be more of a press-bail or zone corner prospect. Not because of any deficiencies in his man-to-man coverage; he can mirror a receiver through a route almost on par with Purifoy. Roberson, rather, has been far better in supporting the run than Purifoy, who was exposed in the Week 2 loss at Miami.
Roberson is terrific on the ball, with great closing speed and receiver hands. He has three career interceptions and 15 breakups.
And yet the best cornerback on the roster might just be Vernon Hargreaves III, a first-round prospect himself, though not before the 2016 NFL Draft. Hargreaves is a true freshman, but he's been the Gators' biggest defensive playmaker this season, with three interceptions and five pass breakups -- both team highs.
Every one of four Florida cornerbacks, wherever they line up and whenever they're in the game and whoever they're out there with, can make a case for being the best DB on the field. No other team has such secondary depth. They all play the game the same way -- fast and effective -- and they're all about the same size (Watkins is 6-foot, 188 pounds; Purifoy is 6-0, 190; Roberson is 6-0, 195; Hargreaves 5-11, 192), making it often impossible to tell one blue blur from the other out there.
And yet . . . Florida's Four Corners will best tested on Saturday by an LSU offense superior to anything they've seen this season. There's Zach Mettenberger, the SEC's passing efficiency leader and perhaps the fastest-rising quarterback prospect in the country, who is blossoming before our eyes in Cam Cameron's offensive system. There's running back Jeremy Hill, who's second in the nation with nine rushing touchdowns this season and has seven career 100-yard games on his resume.
And then there are the receivers. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. have combined for 77 catches, 1,302 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. They are both fast and athletic enough to challenge the Florida corners all over the field (though it'll be interesting to see if they're strong enough to get off the line against aggressive press coverage). Landry has been the more clutch of the two this season; 31 of his 42 receptions have gone for first downs. Beckham is the more explosive; the nation's top kick returner averages 228 yards of total offense per game.
Typically, we use this column to identify five prospects worth watching on a given Saturday. If you're looking for matchups of top tier NFL prospects, you have only one game to focus on this week. Not counting Mettenberger or Hill, you have six future NFL players (maybe four or five first-rounders), going head-to-head in various combinations throughout the day.
And that's no joke.