The SideLion NFL Draft Prospect Profile series gives an in-depth scouting analysis of college football players who could be on the Lions’ radar this spring.
Many of the early mock drafts have the Lions selecting Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. However, if the Lions are targeting a cornerback early, they need only look 90 miles west to find a quality first round corner. Michigan State’s own Darqueze Dennard has the skill set to shut down an opponent’s top receiver. The 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner is arguably the best pure cover corner in the draft.
After viewing four games (Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State and Stanford), I gave Dennard a 7.5 grade (mid first round). Here’s an excerpt from his scouting report:
Darqueze Dennard – Cornerback
Height: 5112e Weight: 197e 40 Time: 4.52e
NFL Comparison: Brandon Flowers, Kansas City Chiefs
Adequate height and bulk. Quick twitch athlete; flips hips with ease. Physical at the LOS. Sticky in coverage; has the quick feet to mirror receivers all over the field. Keys and diagnoses quickly with good route recognition skills. Outstanding in run support. Solid tackler. Extremely competitive – never gives up on the play.
Lacks prototypical size. Grabby downfield; draws a lot of penalties. Lacks elite recovery speed; can be beat by speed. Ball skills need improvement.
Dennard, the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award Winner and First Team All American, is arguably the best pure Press Man cover corner in the nation. A three-year starter who finished his career with 167 tackles, 20 pass break-ups and 10 interceptions in 44 career games, Dennard has the necessary skill set to play on an island at the next level. He excels pressing the LOS where he combines quick twitch athleticism with aggressive hand contact to re-route and mirror receivers off their release. Though he lacks elite recovery speed, he utilizes active hands and quick feet to stay in a receiver’s hip pocket and shut down his side of the field. Certainly there are areas for improvement. Dennard will need to learn to play clean outside the five yard contact zone or he will be penalized excessively at the next level. He also needs to do a better job of getting his head around to play the ball downfield as he leaves turnovers on the field he should make. Still, his cover skills, outstanding run support and highly competitive play make him a well-rounded prospect who can start early. Mid first round “high floor, low ceiling” pick with the skill set to excel in a predominantly Press Man scheme and consistently shut down an opponent’s number one receiver.
Ultimately, Dennard has to answer questions regarding his speed, so how he times in the 40 will go a long way toward determining his draft status. Regardless, teams employing a heavy press man scheme will have him ranked high on their draft boards, and the margin for error is low for a highly competitive player like Dennard.