With Terence Newman and Adam Jones on the wrong sides of 30 and Leon Hall racking up Achilles surgeries at an alarming rate, the Cincinnati Bengals needed to get proactive about the cornerback position. And they did Thursday, selecting Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the 5-11, 199-pound star who became the first Thorpe Award winner in school history. He'll give the Bengals an aggressive presence in the secondary, as his occasional technical flaws are dealt with.
Strengths: Receivers have to work to get off the line against Dennard, because he often plays up tight against them and prevents clean releases with his size and strength. Used his hands right up to the line of drawing penalties — jammed well, plus knew when he could and could not latch on downfield. Flips his hips quickly when he needs to. Dennard shows an impressive knack for knowing when to turn for the football, then rarely hesitates in making a play on it. Even when receivers do manage to find openings against him, Dennard can make their lives miserable. He contests passes through the catch, swatting and ripping at the football.
Plays almost like an extra linebacker against the run. When there was not a receiver on his side of the field, he walked down to the edge of the line pre-snap and threw himself into the pile. If he was engaged on a run play, Dennard worked until the whistle to fend off his blocker. He tackles well for a cornerback, too, eschewing that shoulder-first approach for a shoulders-squared technique.
Dennard is clearly a confident defender, no matter what he is tasked with on the field.
Weaknesses: Clocked in just north of 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and that speaks to lingering concerns over his speed. Physical NFL receivers may not be as bothered by Dennard’s press coverage. So even if he shows the continued ability to smoothly turn and run, Dennard may lose some battles on deep balls. The average speed also all but eliminates the possibility that Dennard could work into a lineup as a slot guy (not that any team necessarily would want to play him there).
Issue No. 2 with Dennard’s game concerns his experience with Michigan State — the Spartans utilized almost exclusively man-to-man defenses, so the jury is out on how well Dennard would transition to a zone-heavy approach.
May unfairly be knocked for playing behind the aforementioned, dominant Michigan State front seven. As is often the case with college players who enjoyed such benefits, some will wonder if Dennard can provide the same type of supremacy if he lands on a team less imposing up front.
The best and most current part of Dennard's game is his ability to play aggressive press coverage, and it's a skill that will easily transfer to the NFL. He'll have to learn the intricacies of the position when it comes to off and bail coverage, but he'll have time to do that as the Bengals start to cycle through their older pass defenders.
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