Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State (Height: 5’10⅞”; Weight: 199 lbs.)
First Round: 24th Pick
NFL Comparison: Joe Haden, Cleveland Browns, CB
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+ Plays bigger than his average height suggests
+ Refined technician who doesn’t rely on athleticism
+ Scheme-diverse but plays his best in press-man coverage
+ Played his best against top competition
+ Route recognition is superb
+ Creates for the defense with solid ball skills
+ Will be an instant contributor due to skill set
- Below-average arm length doesn’t help his playing style
- Lacks above-average speed and quickness, giving him less room for error
- Could be maxed out in terms of his ceiling
- Needs to add functional strength to hold up against bigger receivers
Dennard is an average athlete who lacks great recovery speed. His height and frame put pressure on him to win at the line of scrimmage with pure technique, because he has short arms and is below the average height for a starting cornerback. He displays a decent vertical jump when making plays on the ball in the air.
Dennard was often referred to as a team leader and inspiration to younger players while at Michigan State. Spartans linebacker Max Bullough said of Dennard, per Dave-Te' Thomas of Scout.com: “He'll never cause trouble. He's never out at night or has an issue. He is there to work, do his job and win football games.”
At Michigan State, Dennard lined up at the field cornerback position. He primarily played press-man coverage and occasionally Cover 3. He’s at his most comfortable playing press-man, where he was able to disrupt the receiver at the line of scrimmage and stay on the hip until it was time to play the ball.
Dennard is extremely impressive at recognizing routes and attacking the ball. He locates the ball effectively by reacting to the receiver’s movements. He forces tight windows for quarterbacks because of his spatial awareness, then takes advantage of poor throws with his short-area quickness.
Against the Run/Tackling
Dennard is an average run supporter because he overpursues running lanes too often. This leads to bigger chunk plays than what should’ve happened, if not for his poor gap integrity. Dennard also tends to arm tackle instead of making solid, wrap-up tackles. If he can become as fundamental against the run as he is in pass coverage, he will be closer to a complete cornerback.
Dennard is able to mirror receivers off the line of scrimmage and stay on the hip throughout the route. This allows him the opportunity to make subtle hand checks and holds downfield without getting penalized.
He is a high-level technician with an “old-man’s game” because he doesn’t rely on pure athleticism. This leaves him vulnerable to being beaten downfield or being called for penalties, but he locates the ball early after it's thrown and fights hard for it. Winning at the line of scrimmage is very important for press cornerbacks, and Dennard consistently proved to be able to win there.
Defenses that embrace Cover 3 principles look for players with great ball skills, awareness and route recognition and put less of an emphasis on the measurable traits, so Dennard should be an attractive option for zone schemes. Dennard overcomes his lack of top-end speed and burst with clean hip flexion and by running the route with the receiver as opposed to chasing him.
Much of what Dennard does in terms of technique borders on being legal and illegal on the playing field, but as the 2013-14 Seattle Seahawks defensive backs showed, there is a tolerance for being physical if you’re good at it.
Dennard is a great technician from the beginning of the snap until the echo of the whistle. He has a clean backpedal and hip swivel. He looks back for the ball and then initiates contact to avoid penalties. He also shows great timing with his hands, giving subtle pushes or holding the hip of the receiver to force an incompletion.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
Darqueze Dennard projects as a field cornerback for an aggressive press-man defense, with the ability to play zone at times. He should be able to see the field early in his career because of his understanding of route running and how he wins. He doesn’t play outside of his skill set, which again puts him in a position to succeed.
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