The New England Patriots are potentially on the market for a cornerback and the team is showing heavy interest in Florida CB Jalen “Teez” Tabor. Tabor entered the starting lineup as a true freshman and has been one of the best cornerbacks in the country over his sophomore and junior seasons. Tabor decided to enter the draft early.
The Patriots are hosting Tabor on one of their 30 official visits prior to the draft, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Tabor has been named First Team All SEC in 2015 and 2016, becoming just the third cornerback in the past decade to be named First Team All SEC in consecutive years, joining former teammate Vernon Hargreaves III (2013-15) and Vanderbilt CB D.J. Moore (2007-08).
Tabor has racked up 28 disruptions (forced fumbles, interceptions, pass breakups) over the past two seasons, which ranks towards the top of the 2017 draft class. He is an aggressive run defender, quality man and zone cornerback, has fluid hips to mirror quick receivers, and a solid 6’0, 200 pound frame to match-up with bigger cornerbacks.
NFL Draft Analyst Mike Mayock believes that Tabor is a first round talent. Pro Football Focus compares Tabor to Aqib Talib and notes that Tabor has allowed a passer rating of just 41.2 during his time in college. One AFC personnel executive told MMQB’s Albert Breer that Tabor is potentially better than Hargreaves, who went 11th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Even Hargreaves agrees that Tabor could be better, noting that Tabor might have outplayed him in 2015.
“He probably did,” Hargreaves told SEC Country when asked if he thought Tabor outplayed him in 2015. “He is the best corner in college football right now, without a doubt, no question and no debates.”
“Absolutely. His talent level is through the roof,” Hargreaves said when asked if Tabor could be better than him. “He can be as good as he wants to be. I’ve told him everything I have known. He listens. He understands the game. His personality, if you get to know him, you’ll understand why he will be the best.”
And yet Tabor might be available for the Patriots in the third round; neither ESPN’s Todd McShay, nor ESPN’s Mel Kiper have Tabor going in the first two rounds. Why?
First, there are off-the-field concerns with Tabor. He was suspended for a game in 2015 for skipping a drug test and failed a drug test prior to the start of his freshman season. He was also suspended for the season opener of 2016 for getting into a fight with a teammate, with Tabor apparently getting hit with a helmet.
“[Tabor is] going to be a pain in the ass for whoever takes him,” one AFC Southeast area scout told NFL.com.
And yet Tabor doesn’t shy away from these criticisms, noting that he speaks freely about these situations in interviews.
“That’s the only type of questions I get in the interviews,” Tabor said at the combine, via Yahoo! Sports. “I just tell them that you have to go through growing pains in life. I am not saying I am glad I made those mistakes. But they definitely made me the man I am today. I learned valuable life lessons from those mistakes, so I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
It doesn’t hurt that Florida head coach Jim McElwain heaps praise on Tabor at every possible turn, noting how the player has learned from his mistakes.
“I love the guy,” McElwain said about Tabor during the 2016 season. “He's a guy who cares. He's a guy who has really invested in himself. I think he's grown up immensely as far as how he's going about his business.”
“He’s one of those guys that I think has come the farthest and has gotten better because of it,” McElwain said about Tabor back in 2015. “Understanding the importance of detail, understanding the importance of it isn’t just rolling the ball out there and go play.
“It’s about studying. It’s about perfecting your craft and really how you can affect those around you. That guy’s done an unbelievable job. Since we’ve been here I’ve seen an absolute investment in himself for the better.”
But regardless of coach speak, there are still concerns about Tabor’s maturity and that has hurt his draft stock.
Additionally, there are flaws in Tabor’s game that hurt him as well. He will frequently miss tackles as his aggression can cause him to overshoot the ballcarrier and leave him vulnerable to direction changes; that aggression also leads to potential issues in coverage against double moves.
Per NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, scouts are also concerns about Tabor’s deep ball coverage speeds, a worry that was validated by Tabor’s 4.62s 40 yard dash at the combine and his ugly 4.72s 40 yard dash at his pro day.
Still, Tabor ran a 6.99s three cone and has a solid 10’ broad jump, showing good explosion and change of direction ability. Pro Football Focus rates Tabor above average in all of their evaluation categories, from coverage grades and run defense grades to yards per coverage snap and passer rating allowed.
Tabor has potential CB1 upside in the NFL, but looks like a viable fit as a CB2 early in his career. If he’s still on the board at 72nd overall, the Patriots should definitely consider making the selection.