2014 NFL Draft Prospects: Darqueze Dennard, a good but not great cornerback

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

In 2013 the Steelers secondary wasn't as good as it had been in the past. The once underrated Ike Taylor was beat more than his fair share. To add to the trouble the AFC North has too incredibly good emerging receivers. The Steelers could look for help with college football's most consistent corner in 2013 than Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.

As far as consistency goes there isn't a cornerback available in the 2014 NFL Draft more consistent than Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. The cousin of Patriots third-year CB Alfonzo Dennard, he is 5-foot-11 and weighs just less than 200 pounds.

He started three seasons at Michigan State. In 2011, as a sophomore, he notched three interceptions and three pass breakups. In 2012 he grabbed three more interceptions and had another seven pass breakups. For his senior year he put on a cornerback clinic, grabbing four interceptions and breaking-up 10 passes on his way to earning first team Big Ten and AP All-American honors and wining the Jim Thorpe award for being the nation's best college defensive back.

Strengths

The figure of speech phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" is probably the most concise way to describe Dennard. He shows good ability in both man or zone coverage whether tight or off the line.

Dennard was one of the few corners in college football whose team truly trusted him to be on an island. On film it isn't hard to see why.

He has good footwork in his back pedal, maintaining a balanced controlled stance and generally keeping his pad level low. Dennard has fluid hips and is able to flip them and run very well. This allows him to mirror his receiver's routes and stay in position. He shows great recognition of routes and relates them to the football situation at hand. Dennard is very comfortable in press man coverage though lacks the athletic ability to excel in the NFL without over the top help. He is able to jam the receivers well at the line which slows down the routes. He also does a good job of finding the football in flight and becoming the receiver. He is better in short zone coverage of the Cover 2 where he can use his physicality and play recognition to disrupt routes without having to worry about being beaten deep.

This play highlights Dennard's recognition and closing speed in zone coverage. Dennard is lined up seven yards off the line. He quickly recognizes the quick out and breaks on the ball. The QB does lead he receiver too much but a nice pop reinforces the incomplete pass.

He wouldn't be considered as the Steelers pick if he wasn't comfortable in run support. Dennard is more than willing to hold the edge and make the tackle on a running back outside the numbers. He shows a good ability to disengage from receivers' blocks and make the tackle. He will not shy away from the physicality of the game. e does need to do a better job of wrapping up.

Weaknesses

While Dennard isn't afraid to play physically his size can put him at risk against some of the bigger receivers he faces. Likewise he lacks elite athleticism to stay with the top athletes at the receiver position. When he doesn't get a press at the line good receivers and QB that can lead their throws will take advantage of him.

Dennard will also need to work on his hand usage downfield. In college in order to slow down the faster receivers he was able to use his hand all the way down field. This will be limited to only the first five yards off the line in the NFL. Dennard has some veteran savvy moves but he can also get a little grabby.

In this play we see both the good and the bad of Dennard. He is in tight coverage and the receiver fakes an inside move. Dennard reacts to this taking a step inside. He is able to in control flip his hips and close the gap between him and the receiver. He sits right at the receivers hip. When the receiver turns his head so does Dennard. What is less noticeable is his left hand. Dennard is checking how close the receiver is with his left hand (a legal maneuver in the NFL) however as the ball comes closer he grabs the receivers' jersey and pulls it ensuring the pass will not reach its mark.

While he wasn't called for these moves in college, grabbing the jersey is the biggest thing the officials look for in the NFL and he will need to learn to slow the receiver in other more subtle ways.

Overall

Dennard is a good but not great corner. His technique is on par with the top of his position in college. His play recognition is also good. Dennard however lacks the top end athletic skills to make him an elite prospect. He will likely be exposed in 1-on-1 man coverage without safety help and looks to fit a zone team that presses their corners well. Regardless of this Dennard is a football player. With his limitations Dennard shouldn't be picked until the second half of the first round. However a weak defensive draft will push him up.

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