Darqueze Dennard was a consensus first-team All-American and won the Jim Thorpe Award as college football's finest defensive back in 2013 for the Michigan State Spartans. He received those accolades thanks to extremely physical lockdown play on the boundary.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, he measured in at slightly under 5'11" and 199 pounds—good size for an outside NFL cornerback.
Coming from the Big 10, a respected conference but one known more for aggressive play than pure speed, Dennard needed to prove he could run with the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 defensive backs.
Here's a look at his full combine performance:
|5'10 7/10"||199||30 1/4"||9"||4.51||15||N/A|
Dennard's official 40-yard dash time of 4.51 wasn't necessarily scintillating, but it shouldn't negatively affect his draft stock, although some of his "competitors"—Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, Ohio State's Bradley Roby and TCU's Jason Verrett—ran faster.
CBS Sports listed Dennard as the No. 1 cornerback before the combine, ahead of Gilbert and Verrett, in that order.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had the Spartan star as his No. 2 cornerback behind Gilbert.
Dennard's unofficial time of 4.42 was very good in the eyes of CBS Sports College Football writer Bruce Feldman, erasing any doubts about his speed:
#MichiganState star CB Darqueze Dennard whose film scouts love, just ran an unofficial 4.42. Stud. No more skepticism w him.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) February 25, 2014
Former NFL personnel executive and current Senior Bowl director Phil Savage commented on the cornerbacks' positional drills, and listed Dennard as one of the top performers:
In position work, IMO, Brooks, Bucannon and Clinton-Dix were best safeties, with Gilbert, Dennard, Fuller, Desir and Gaines as top corners.— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) February 25, 2014
Before the cornerbacks hit the field in Indianapolis on Tuesday morning, Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com made a bold statement about the difference in the games of Dennard and Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert:
I don't care if Justin Gilbert runs a 4.20 today.. he's not close to the cover corner that Dennard is.— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) February 25, 2014
Gilbert ran faster than Dennard, clocking an official 4.37 in the 40-yard dash.
Dennard has an interesting backstory. He was only a two-star recruit coming out of high school. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said the following about his top corner before this year's Rose Bowl, per Aram Tolegian of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune:
He wasn’t a highly recruited guy, but he’s got a presence on the football field. He’s electric out there for us. He’s a special person. A very special person.
While some love Dennard's physical nature in coverage, others see it as a negative. Per CBS Sports' Dane Brugler:
A 4.42 unofficial is a VG time for Dennard, but speed isn't his biggest issue. It's the downfield contact that will attract loads of laundry— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 25, 2014
Basically, regardless of how scouts view Dennard, his combine effort didn't do much to sway his draft stock in either direction. He was widely considered a mid- to late-first-round prospect coming into Indy, and he'll leave with that same projection.
Ultimately, his value will be determined by how teams feel he'll fit into their system.
He's a highly productive player with great but not elite athleticism or speed who exhibited shutdown ability for the Spartans during a three-year career in East Lansing.