Teams looking to upgrade their defensive backfield this offseason may have to look no further than Darqueze Dennard, the Michigan State cornerback who’s drawing parallels to some of the elite cornerbacks in the NFL.
Dennard was a standout in the Spartans secondary this season, earning the Jim Thorpe Award — the honor given to the nation’s top defensive back — and stood out in the team’s biggest game. During the Big Ten title game, Dennard helped to limit Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller to eight completed passes and 101 yards passing en route to a 34-24 victory.
Touted for his versatility, Dennard can line up anywhere in the defensive backfield and play both zone or man coverage. His four interceptions during his senior season serves as evidence. Dennard is also physical, a sure tackler and aggressive in coverage, and according to draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., he’s the kind of rookie that’ll be able to slide into a starting role right away.
The lone knock on Dennard is his length. At 5-foot-11, he has the typical frame for a cornerback, but because of the Legion of Doom in Seattle, where players like Richard Sherman are 6-foot-3, now players shorter than six foot are considered small. According to NFL.com’s Mike Mayock, Dennard had a chance to show his height won’t play a factor at the Senior Bowl, so his decision to skip it will keep teams wondering how he’ll fare in off-man coverage.
Well, he might not be a Richard Sherman. But Dennard has been compared to another elite corner.
Stanford assistant coach Mike Bloomgren, who served on the New York Jets staff from 2007-10 and had to prepare for Michigan State before the 2014 Rose Bowl, likened Dennard to All-Pro corner Darrelle Revis. According to Bloomgren, he was as vital to the Spartans’ defense as Revis was to the Jets’, forcing quarterbacks to avoid throwing to his side of the field.
Dennard is considered the best cornerback prospect in this year’s class and the No. 11 overall player, according to CBS Sports. He’s ranked No. 18 overall by Kiper and No. 19 by ESPN Scouts Inc., and the second-best at the position behind only Justin Gilbert.
The first team that may consider Dennard is the Detroit Lions at No. 10, and they’ll have to decide which cornerback they think is a better fit. The Lions have built a solid front seven, but the glaring holes in their secondary played a key role in allowing the NFC North title slip out of their fingers.
The New York Giants are a potential landing spot. Corey Webster is all but finished in New York, and the team needs a reliable starter opposite Prince Amukamara. But there are other areas that need to be upgraded more than corner. It’s a similar situation with the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose 2013 secondary averaged 32 years of age.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ league-worst pass defense could be a red-eye alert that an upgrade is needed. The team dropped a bunch of cash on corners in free agency a year ago, but only Brandon Boykid was a reliable defender last season. Should Dennard slip by Philly at No. 22, he’s bound to fall into the Cincinnati Bengals’ lap at No. 24. Leon Hall is recovering from a torn Achilles, while Terrence Newman and Adam Jones are also getting up there in age.