Florida's Jalen Tabor could emerge as top CB in the nation
The Florida Gators saw star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III drafted No. 11 overall in the 2016 NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but there is every chance that their next star cornerback could be drafted even higher. Jalen Tabor has now put together two impressive seasons in which he’s been very successful in coverage, and comes into 2016 as one of the top defensive backs in the nation, poised to earn nationwide respect in that regard.
Impressive freshman year
In 2014, Tabor wasn’t the full-time player he is now, playing just 371 snaps over the course of the year. However, even then you could see that he was going to be a special player for Florida, with the 17th-highest coverage grade despite seeing a limited amount of time on the field. Consistently impressive throughout the year, Tabor didn’t give up more than 54 receiving yards in a single game, allowed an average of just 9.7 yards per reception, didn’t allow a receiving touchdown in his coverage and came away with an interception and five pass breakups.
Our coverage signature stats — yards per coverage snap and coverage snaps per receptions allowed — take into account the number of receptions and number of yards allowed by a cornerback on a per-snap basis. In both categories Tabor trailed Hargreaves, who had the our second-highest coverage grade next to Ole Miss’ Senquez Golson in 2014, but he wasn’t that far behind him production-wise. Hargreaves allowed an average of 0.68 yards per coverage snap, and gave up a reception once every 13.6 snaps in coverage. Tabor allowed an average of 0.90 yards per coverage snap, and gave up a reception once every 10.8 snaps in coverage. Even as a freshman, there were indications that we were watching a player who was on his way to becoming very special.
Better than Hargreaves in 2015
Thanks to an impressive sophomore season from Tabor, and a slight down year for Hargreaves, it was Tabor who graded higher this past season. His numbers improved across the board, giving up just 26 receptions for 231 yards, while coming away with four interceptions and 12 pass breakups. If applying his numbers to the NFL’s quarterback rating, passes thrown into Tabor’s coverage allowed a QB rating of just 33.0 — the third-best mark of any returning cornerback in the nation.
His ability as a playmaker is something that’s helped him grow into one of the best defensive backs in the nation, and it’s quite ridiculous when one considers he allowed just 10 more receptions than his 16 combined interceptions and pass breakups. His best game in this regard came late in the year against Florida Atlantic, where he allowed just four receptions, but came away with an interception and five pass breakups. That included the end zone fade below, with Tabor using his hands before going up to separate the ball from the receiver’s hands.
Room for improvement
Even as one of the top defensive players in the nation, Tabor still has room to improve, and if he can fix some of his issues he can vault his way into the elite players in the country. Tabor played 682 snaps in 2015, compared with 371 in 2014, but saw his missed tackles increase from two to nine, while his total number of tackles resulting in a defensive stop dropped from 11 to nine. While he clearly improved in coverage downfield, he didn’t see the same improvement as a run defender and in the short passing game.
He certainly wasn’t the worst cornerback when it came to tackling — in fact, there were 82 cornerbacks across the nation who missed more tackles than him. However, if he wants to be the best cornerback in the nation, it’s an area must improve. Our three highest-graded cornerbacks last year — Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis, Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and Iowa’s Desmond King — all missed no more than four missed tackles a year ago.
Ready for a big 2016
Despite the need for improvement in one key area, nobody can deny that Tabor is on the verge of something really special. There are a lot of talented cornerbacks in college football right now, but not even Lewis or King can boast allowing just 231 receiving yards and just 8.9 yards per reception last year. Lewis allowed 416 yards, at 12.6 yards per reception, while King allowed 572 at 14.3 yards per receptions. Provided he can clean up his tackling and make less mistakes in that regard, there really is no reason why Tabor can’t be regarded as the top cornerback in the nation in 2016.