Alfonzo Dennard Was the Steal of the 2012 NFL Draft for the New England Patriots

James DiMaioCorrespondent IMay 4, 2012

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 25: Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard #15 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers is greeted by Head Coach Bo Pelini on senior day before playing a  game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Memorial Stadium November 25, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Iowa 20-7. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

How does someone like Alfonzo Dennard who was graded as high a first-round pick by scouts and draft analysts alike slip all the way to the last round of the draft?

A poor performance at the Senior Bowl, a fist fight in the middle of a game and a punch to the face of a police officer a week before the draft will usually do the trick.

While Dennard's recent transgressions cannot be denied, neither can his talent on the football field.

As a starting cornerback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers throughout most of his college career, Dennard has excelled playing against a high level of competition, according to New England head coach Bill Belichick:

He’s strong. He’s a physical player. Obviously he played at a high level of competition, particularly in the 2010 season where they played so much in the passing conference (The Big 12) – a lot of spread out offenses, a lot of nickel, dime coverage and that type of thing.

While Dennard lacks ideal NFL size at 5'10'', he is known for his physicality at the line of scrimmage and above-average closing speed, particularly when playing off the line. With fluid movement and secure tackling prowess, he has also demonstrated the ability to excel in zone coverages.

Dennard won the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award last season after grabbing four interceptions, six pass breakups and 31 tackles.

Sitting on the 224th pick of the NFL draft, the Patriots staff knew the talent was there with Dennard just as much as the risk, but at some point, talent supersedes risk. Belichick proved to be too shrewd of a general manager to pass on a potential NFL starter in the seventh round, and we know how much he covets value picks.

Belichick has made it an annual occasion picking top-rated players with off-the-field issues. He selected Brandon Spikes in the second round in 2009 (marijuana), Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round in 2010 (marijuana) and Ryan Mallett in the third round in 2011 (character concerns).

While it is apparent that Dennard is a bit of a fighter and seems to lack good decision-making skills outside of football, there are plenty of people in this world that have got themselves into scraps and made poor decisions.

Let's not forget that we are talking about a 22-year-old who plays arguably the most physical game on earth. There are worse things he could be doing than getting into fights.

The Patriots boast one of the strongest locker rooms in the league. With some mentoring from level-headed teammates and guidance from a Hall of Fame coach, Dennard could be a starter in the NFL before you know it.