INDIANAPOLIS -- Joe Haden used to see himself as the next Mike Vick, a wonderfully gifted quarterback who would be a highlight-show favorite.
What he didn't see was his becoming a quarterback's nightmare, a shutdown, man-cover corner who would become one of the top-rated defensive backs in the country.
The NFL scouts are drooling over him as he readies to enter the April NFL Draft.
They should thank Tim Tebow for having that chance.
When Haden got to the University of Florida as a quarterback, he looked around at the other quarterbacks and saw Tebow and Cam Newton. He knew he had to move, so he took a shot at receiver, but found that a crowded spot as well, including Percy Harvin, so it was off to corner -- and a chance to play.
"When I first got to Florida I had a little dream I was going to play quarterback, but they had somebody named Tebow there, so that kind of went out the window," Haden said. "Then I changed to receiver and I was second-string behind Percy. I just couldn't get right. After that coach [Urban] Meyer asked me if I felt like going to the defensive side of the ball."
He should send Tebow a basket of fruit -- hey, he doesn't drink. Let's be real: There isn't a big market for 5-11 quarterbacks in the NFL, so Haden wouldn't have made it to this level.
Now he's about to be a top 10 pick.
"We're always looking for cover players and he's the best in this draft," one NFC personnel director said. "He's really improved in his three seasons there. But the best thing is that his best football is in front of him."
Haden started as a true freshman at corner, the first player in Florida history to do so. He had some rough times. Passes were thrown over his head. Touchdowns were scored on his watch.
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But that lesson hardened him. And he went to work on his techniques. By his sophomore season in 2008, the makings of a big-time corner were there. In 2009, he excelled at it, which is why the NFL scouts love him.
He is fast -- he's expected to run under 4.4 -- and he has a 40-inch vertical leap. He said he dunked a basketball in ninth grade.
Since he left after his junior year, and played the position for only three seasons, there is some concern about his inexperience. But isn't that a plus? If he's this good with limited experience, how good will he be when he truly knows the position?
"I haven't nearly reached my peak at all," Haden said. "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."
We've seen in recent years what a good cover player can mean to a defense. As more and more teams are spreading defenses out, it's imperative to have good cover players. Look what Darrelle Revis has done for the New York Jets defense. Look what young cover corners Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph have done in Cincinnati.
Corners are worth more than ever, which is why Haden is so popular now heading to the draft. It's also why he chose to leave school a year early.
The time to cash in is now.
"I spoke with my parents, 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," Haden said. "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."
One thing's for certain: He's better suited for this step and this position than he was the last one. Haden the corner is a far better prospect than Haden the quarterback would have ever been.