Projected frequently as a top-two cornerback selection and as a top-15 pick, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is expected to be contending with Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert to be the top cornerback selected in this year’s draft. But while an outstanding senior season and exceptional combine performance likely cemented Gilbert’s draft stock high, it’s plausible that up to three other cornerbacks could surpass Dennard.
A physical, instinctive cornerback who has great ball skills and plays well in both man and zone coverages, Dennard is arguably the most skilled cornerback in this year’s draft. He is especially effective in press coverage, as he uses his hands well and shows no hesitancy in getting up close and personal with the opponent he is covering.
Dennard’s physical tools, however, aren’t as impressive as those of the other top cornerbacks in this year’s draft class. A 5’11”, 199-pound defender who ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at this year’s combine, the Michigan State product’s measurables are considered average at best for his position.
In comparison, Gilbert is bigger and faster, while the other three potential first-round picks at cornerback—Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, TCU’s Jason Verrett and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby—are each also more explosive than Dennard is.
That’s not to say a team shouldn’t invest a first-round draft pick in Dennard, who tends to make up for his subpar physical potential with his impressive technical skills. That said, he could be overmatched against some top-level NFL wide receivers, and his upside might be the lowest of the top five cornerback prospects in the draft.
Should Dennard go as high as the No. 13 overall pick, as B/R’s Matt Miller projected in his most recent mock draft, he would be a valid choice who could make an NFL secondary better right away. Teams thinking long-term, however, might be more inclined to draft one of the other top cornerbacks and allow Dennard to slip into the late first round or further.
According to The Sideline View’s Lance Zierlein, teams around the league are “absolutely not” high on Dennard as a prospect.