Joe Haden of Florida Projected as One of Top Cornerbacks in 2010 NFL Draft
INDIANAPOLIS – Joe Haden's NFL journey wasn't straight, and it wasn't always easy.
When Haden, now a cornerback, first arrived at the University of Florida, he had an idea might play quarterback, then he thought wide receiver might be an option.
Tim Tebow got in the way at quarterback.
Then, a slew of players made receiver less attractive.
"I just couldn't get it right," Haden said at the NFL Scouting Combine, which was held in late February at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
Not at first, maybe.
But once Haden moved to cornerback, things worked better. Much better. And quickly.
Haden (5-feet-11, 193 pounds), who found his position in time to start the season opener as a true freshman, emerged not only as a consensus All-America selection, but after foregoing his senior season, he is widely expected to be one of the first two cornerbacks selected in the April 22-24 2010 NFL Draft.
While a few mock drafts have Haden in the Top 10, many project him as early as No. 13 overall to the San Francisco 49ers, with a few having him dropping past the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 18.
And while Haden said he knows he has little control over who selects him, and whereas some prospects say they pay little attention to draft analysts and Web sites, Haden said he is aware of the prognostications of analysts.
"You can't help but look at the draft boards – they're everywhere," he said. "I like looking at the draft boards. It's just some of my friends can look at it and say, 'You're probably going to go here, you're probably going to go there.' At the end of the day it's up to the coaches.
"My boys Mel Kiper and Todd McShay (of ESPN), I wish they could pick because they've got me up there. But it's not their choice."
Haden, who set Maryland high school records for touchdowns and passing yards, was one of the most highly-recruited players in the nation as a senior, and while he was recruited by some as an athlete, he said initially he planned to sign with the University of Virginia as a quarterback.
He also planned to play quarterback at Florida but said he moved to receiver because of the presence of Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2007, Haden's true freshman season. He said he then moved to receiver, but was second-team behind Percy Harvin, the NFL Rookie of the Year with the Minnesota Vikings this past season.
"After that, (Florida Head) Coach (Urban) Meyer asked me if I felt like going to the defensive side of the ball," Haden said. "At first, I just wanted to play. I came in spring, so I had a lot of time to adjust. He moved me to corner, something I never did before. But I had (Florida secondary) Coach (Chuck) Heater. He said, 'As long as you go hard, as long as you run as fast as you can, just tackle, toughness, you'll be able to play.'
"That's what I did, and they let me start as a freshman. I was surprised at first, but I knew what they wanted on the field and I take coaching really well.
"Coach Heater would tell me what to do, and I'd go out there and try to do it every day."
Haden, who registered 63 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and 12 passes defensed as a freshman, registered 87 tackles and 12 passes defensed as a sophomore, with three interceptions. He was second-team All-Southeastern Conference as a sophomore, and although opposing offenses stayed away from him at times this past season, he led Florida with four interceptions and had 68 tackles with 10 passes defensed.
The decision to leave Florida came after conversations with his parents and Meyer, Haden said.
"I spoke with my parents," Haden said. "That's basically what I do with any big decision, and we talked about what I felt like I needed to accomplish when I was at Florida, and I felt like I accomplished everything
I came to accomplish. We won the national championship, the SEC championship. Then I was a unanimous consensus All-American, that's what I wanted to do.
"My dad asked me if I thought I was ready for the next level and I told him I was."
Haden said Meyer's analysis was simple. Once the league's draft advisory council informed Haden he likely would be a first-round selection, Meyer said he should leave.
"Urban feels like if you're mature enough and you send your paperwork in and it comes back first round, then you should definitely leave," Haden said.
Haden, who said he prefers to play press coverage, ran what some analysts considered a disappointing 4.57-second 40-yard dash at the combine in February, but improved that to 4.48 at his Pro Day workout in Gainesville on March 17.
"If somebody needs a corner, I feel I could fill in that spot for them," Haden said. "Not just as being a cornerback, I can do a lot of other things. I can definitely do punts, I can do any kind of special teams. I was a gunner at Florida, I was a hold-up guy for Florida. Wherever they need someone, I can do it.
"I haven't nearly reached my peak at all. I just feel like whatever team I go to, they're going to get a person they can mold into a way better corner than I was in college. I've been doing this for three years and I feel like I'm getting pretty good at it. But I want to learn more.
"You're getting someone who really wants to learn the game and really wants to be the best they can be at corner."
BREAKING DOWN THE 2010 NFL DRAFT'S TOP CORNERBACKS
The cornerback position remains a premium draft-day position, with this year's class considered deep at the spot. Florida cornerback Joe Haden is widely projected as one of the top two players available at the spot, and while questions arose about his speed after the scouting combine, he remains a Top 10-15 overall selection. Some analysts rank Earl Thomas of Texas as the No. 1 prospect at corner, with some projecting Thomas as early as No. 7 or 8. Kyle Wilson of Boise State also is projected as a first-round selection, with Devin McCourty of Rutgers, Kareem Jackson of Alabama and Patrick Robinson of Florida State also considered first-round possibilities.
ON THE COLTS' ROSTER
Kelvin Hayden, sixth season, Illinois; Jerraud Powers, second season, Auburn; Jacob Lacey, second season, Oklahoma State; Terrail Lambert.
THE LAST FIVE
The last five cornerbacks by the Colts . . .
2009: Jerraud Powers, third round, Auburn.
2007: Michael Coe, fifth round, Alabama State.
2007: Dante Hughes, third round, California.
2006: T.J. Rushing, seventh round, Stanford.
2006: Tim Jennings, second round, Georgia.
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
An alphabetical list of 20 cornerbacks expected to be selected in the 2010 NFL Draft . . .
Javier Arenas, Alabama, 5-9, 197
Chris Cook, Virginia, 6-2, 212
Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 195
Dominique Franks*, Oklahoma, 5-11, 194
Brandon Ghee, Wake Forest, 6-0, 192
Joe Haden*, Florida, 5-11, 193
Kareem Jackson*, Alabama, 5-11, 196
A.J. Jefferson, Fresno State, 6-0, 193
Trevard Lindley, Kentucky, 5-11, 183
Jerome Murphy, South Florida, 6-0, 196
Devin McCourty, Rutgers, 5-11, 193
Walter McFadden, Auburn, 5-11, 181
Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Indiana (PA), 6-0, 207
Patrick Robinson, Florida State, 5-11, 190
Amari Spievey*, Iowa, 5-11, 195
Earl Thomas*, Texas, 5-10, 208
Kevin Thomas, Southern Cal, 6-0, 192
Walter Thurmond, Oregon, 5-11, 189
Alterraun Verner, UCLA, 5-10, 189
Kyle Wilson, Boise State, 5-10, 194
Note: The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.