University of Florida

For possible first-round pick Jalen Tabor, production on field outweighs slow 40 time

UF cornerback Jalen Tabor catches a pass during positional drills during Florida's Pro Day on Tues., March 28, 2017.
UF cornerback Jalen Tabor catches a pass during positional drills during Florida's Pro Day on Tues., March 28, 2017. jmcpherson@miamiherald.com

Jalen Tabor doesn’t need a 40-yard dash time to validate his NFL Draft stock.

The All-American cornerback says his résumé speaks for itself.

“Just press play,” Tabor said.

For Tabor’s sake, he’s hoping that’s how at least one NFL team views it when the draft rolls around on April 27.

After shaky outings in front of representatives from all 32 NFL teams at both Florida’s pro day on Tuesday and the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis earlier in the month, Tabor’s stock has taken a hit in a defensive back-heavy class over the past month.

In some eyes, he’s playing catch up in a class that could have up to 10 defensive backs go in the first round based on mock drafts.

But to Tabor — whose 40-yard dash was clocked in the 4.6-second range at the Combine and slipped into the 4.7s on Tuesday inside Florida’s indoor practice facility — his performance on the field over the past three years says a lot more.

“It is what it is,” Tabor said. “I mean, it’s not going to be my loss if you pass on me. I’m going to be in this league for a long time. Somebody could lose their job if they pass on me, so I ain’t mad at it.”

Tabor has never been one to hide his opinions about his talent. And since his first game as a freshman three years ago, he has more or less backed it up every time.

In three years and 37 career games, Tabor had 37 total defended passes, which include both passes broken up and interceptions. He recorded nine interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns.

“That’s what I do,” Tabor said. “I’m pretty sure I’ve got more picks than a lot of the top guys. I’m pretty sure I’ve got more touchdowns, probably more touchdowns than they got picks. I don’t get it. They say I’m slow, but I’m not getting beat that way, and I’m beating people back this way.”

UF coach Jim McElwain has continually praised his former player for his natural instinct on the field. Tabor has a knack for reading plays and predicting how they’ll evolve before they even begin. That, in turn, helps him get the edge in coverage.

“He plays at a fast, fast level,” McElwain said. “... He plays on film and puts on film that the speed is not an issue.”

Tabor’s skills were most notably on display in Florida’s win over Missouri last season. Late in the first half, Tabor locked eyes with Tigers quarterback Drew lock, jumped the route on the sideline for an interception and returned it 39 yards for the touchdown.

“Are [coaches] looking for an Olympic runner or a football player?” Tabor’s teammate and fellow cornerback Quincy Wilson said. “I feel like if you turn on Jalen’s film, it says enough. If they want to worry about 40 times, that’s not the guy you want, but if you want production, then Jalen’s the guy.”

But Tabor has had his troubles as well. He was cited for marijuana possession the summer before his freshman year and served a pair of one-game suspensions — once as a sophomore for a violation of team rules and again in 2016 after getting into a fight with a teammate during practice before the season opener.

Tabor said he was up front with teams when asked about his off-the-field issues and said they are a thing of the past.

“I made a couple of mistakes when I was young,” Tabor said. “Everybody was 18, 19, 20 years old at one point in time in their life, and everybody’s done some things they wished they could have back, including myself.”

Tabor will spend the next three weeks traveling the country, meeting with multiple teams for individual workouts and interviews.

It’s a quick turnaround for a slow process, but once the draft rolls around, Tabor knows he’ll hear his name called at some point.

“In my heart, I’m a first-round pick,” Tabor said. “I know I’m a first-round pick. But, you know, guys slide sometimes. … I’m in for the long run.”

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