2014 Heisman Sleeper: Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III

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The most talented player on most SEC rosters has a fighting chance at contending for the Heisman Trophy, particularly if his team’s in conference title contention. Florida sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III fits the former description. As for the latter? Coming off a wildly disappointing 4-8 season, Hargreaves will play a central role in the Gators’ efforts to reverse course.

Florida comes into the 2014 campaign with modest buzz. Paul Finebaum called the Gators SEC East sleepers and Phil Steele ranks them No. 24 in his preseason Top 25.

If they’re to compete in the division, it will start on the defensive end. And Vernon Hargreaves is a catalyst for the Gators’ talented unit.

Hargreaves proved to be every bit as good as his 5-star rating as a prep recruit from the outset, jumping into Florida’s rotation to make an immediate impact.

He intercepted a team-high three passes and broke up 11 passes in his freshman year. And Hargreaves told Chase Goodbread of NFL.com on Day 1 of SEC media days he’s striving for more in 2014:

“I think I can definitely get better. I don’t think I’m close to where I need to be, but you have to be confident at corner. I love Richard Sherman. I love how he plays, how he talks, I love everything about him, really. You just have to be confident playing corner.”

Richard Sherman is certainly an admirable model after whom a young defensive back like Hargreaves can mold his game. In patterning his game after the best corner in the NFL, Hargreaves could establish himself as the best corner in college.

Though, Hargreaves may be best served leaving the Sherman-like on-field tirades to head coach Will Muschamp.

Postgame rants aside, Hargreaves’ nod to Sherman carries weight from the perspective of the Heisman race. Sherman’s play has helped him achieve a level of stardom typically reserved for offensive, skill position players. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are the NFL’s biggest stars, but Sherman’s not far behind.

Similarly, SEC quarterbacks Nick Marshall, Dak Prescott and even Jacob Coker might enter the season with more Heisman cachet. It has become a quarterback’s award, after all. But with a monster sophomore season, Vernon Hargreaves can break into discussion.

To that end, Muschamp says the star sophomore is taking it upon himself to lead by example.

“He’s a guy that’s got a burning desire to be really, really good,” Muschamp said Monday, per Knox Bardeen of FoxSports.com. “He’s in the film room constantly. He’s correcting himself. He’s coachable. All the intangible things you want a player to be he possesses.”

With the way the Gators flopped to end 2013, Hargreaves’ approach is precisely what they need collectively to refocus. Sherman proves a cornerback can command the brightest spotlight and former SEC’er Tyrann Mathieu proved a defensive back can contend for the Heisman with today’s voters, but both did so on championship-caliber teams.

Certainly Florida has a long way to go to reach that point. But much like one of his interceptions, Vernon Hargreaves has the ability to change momentum in an instant.