Coming from a conference that has long prided itself on its physicality, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard has carried that reputation to the top of many teams’ draft boards this spring.
At 5’11” and 199 pounds, Dennard has the size to match up favorably with many of the game’s premier receivers, as well as offering the ability to contribute in run support. His 62 tackles trailed only safety Kurtis Drummond among Michigan State defensive backs.
Dennard was a consensus All-American during the 2013 season with Michigan State, one in which he helped lead the Spartans to a 13-1 season and a win in the Rose Bowl. He was also named the Jim Thorpe Award winner, given to the nation’s best collegiate defensive back. His aggressive style in man coverage helped him create six turnovers last fall, including four interceptions.
Dennard has jockeyed for position with Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert as the draft’s top cornerback prospect in the weeks following the regular season, and has more recently been joined in that conversation by Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller.
Following the free agent departure of Cortland Finnegan, the Rams could represent a player in the first-round cornerback market. The consensus among many draft experts places Dennard near the middle of the first round
At the NFL Combine, Dennard was clocked at 4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash, slightly behind the times registered by Gilbert and Fuller, who clocked in at 4.37 and 4.49 seconds, respectively.
But what Dennard may lack in overall speed he makes up for with on-field physicality, an attribute of his game he looks to transition to the NFL.
“We played a little bit of zone, but mainly, we had an aggressive style of play (at Michigan State) Dennard said. “I can play the nickel, I can play inside and blitz or cover the slot. I think I’m going to transition well. In the NFL, you have to give them a five-yard radius, but I can still run with receivers and go get the ball.”
If his stock remains relatively steady over the following five weeks, those attributes could make Dennard the first of this year’s class of defensive backs to be chosen in May.
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