Michigan State’s cornerback Darqueze Dennard embodies what the Spartan defense has become under head coach Mark Dantonio. He is not the most physically gifted player, but he is tough, he will play physical, makes smart decisions and competes from the first whistle to the last. Dennard brings a ton of experience, not just as a starting corner, but in terms of having to go up and compete for passes as teams are not afraid to throw at him and will take shots multiple times a game deep on his side.
The people looking for measurables probably will not like Dennard, but coaches and people who love to grind on tape will like the way he keeps competing and leaves everything he has out on the field. Dennard is a good Cover-2 corner who can press and will contribute as a run defender with experience blitzing off of the edge, and just seems to make plays but his lack of raw speed will hurt him in the draft process. He is the type of player who just needs a shot and could be a long time player in the league. Dennard could go in the hop 75 depending how teams view his speed, but if viewed as a limited scheme fit, he could slip.
Vitals & Build
Dennard is listed at 5’11” 197lbs with a good, strong build. He has functional strength and he is not afraid to use it. Dennard has relatively good quickness in a short area and can be explosive, but his long speed is average at best. He simply does not have a second gear and it shows when he is defending vertical routes. It is unlikely that Dennard has a significant amount of physical upside from here but he is NFL ready now in many respects, provided his lack of speed is not problematic.
Dennard is a wrap up tackler who brings something behind it and can make some nice hits. For the most part, he seems to do a good job of breaking down and making sure he secures the tackle, which he does without having to struggle to get the ball carrier to the ground. Dennard provides a real strength when it comes to making stops from the corner position.
Whether he is attacking on the blitz or reading and coming up to make a play, Dennard is a player who is looking to make an impact. He is not a guy who will let someone else go make a play for him. Dennard does a good job of diagnosing the run and coming down to assist. He is an asset when it comes to being able to hold down that corner and being able to be a threat to stop the run when it comes to his side.
First and foremost, Dennard is physical. In fact, physical enough where it seems like referees in college do not always seem to know how to officiate him. Dennard will hit them from start to finish if he can, likes to get a good jam on the line, and try to set the tone early. He is able to adjust and flips his hips and run, but his long speed is relatively mediocre and quarterbacks who can lead their receivers on the deep ball can take advantage and get opportunities.
When Dennard is late, he has to try to read the receiver’s eyes and hands and time his jab well, which puts him at risk for a penalty. The times where he is on time and in the right spot, he is able to turn his head and try to make a play for the ball.
In situations where Dennard is able to stay on top of the receiver, he wins. For the players he goes against in college, he is simply too strong and has good hand placement. As a result, he can stop the receiver from getting past him and when the ball is up, he has a shot to make a play on it. Dennard runs into problems when the receiver is able to get by him and he is left to try to chase. Receivers with good long speed can create separation and Dennard will grab when he feels he is in trouble. Against quarterbacks who either do not have the arm or the accuracy to throw well deep, he is able to catch up and competes for the football. When it comes to the NFL, this could be far more problematic and the potential is there for him to get beat deep. He will need safety help over the top.
Dennard is a far better zone corner, especially when it comes to Cover-2. He is extremely comfortable playing the short zone on the side, loves to hit and reads plays well. Dennard is good at disguising what he is doing while being able to close on the play when the quarterback makes a misread of what he is showing them. He closes on the football well, especially coming forward and certainly is someone who is looking for an opportunity to pick one off and take it to the house.
When he is able to play short and has a safety over the top or some kind of coverage rolling over behind him, he is free to wreak havoc, hit people who wander in his zone and has the ability to read the quarterback’s eyes, roam around and make plays in coverage.
Dennard’s ball skills are wildly inconsistent. He tends to get his hands on a lot of passes but when it comes to closing the deal on interceptions, Dennard will miss easy plays and make the incredibly difficult. For instance, he makes a big time play on a tipped pass when he sees it late, but will miss a play that he sets up perfectly, sees the whole way and hits his hands. As frustrating as his ball skills can be because they are somewhat unpredictable, he gets opportunities and as long as he is able to create more opportunities, he has a chance to make those into interceptions.
Blitzing off the Edge
Dennard has a lot of experience coming off of the edge. The problem for Dennard is it all comes down to timing. His lack of speed can be problematic and the times he blitzed, they are probably they run the ball at him, because he can disrupt the play and make the tackle. Dennard is not afraid to put a hit on the quarterback and can get them down, but the question is if he can get there quickly enough. Especially when they run him in short zone, it is easy to have him disguise his intent and go for a blitz. He has experience blitzing from the outside as well as the slot.
The best fit for Dennard is Cover-2. He is great in short areas where he can be physical and he is a willing and active run defender and tackler. Dennard shows some savvy and awareness so he can make some nice plays.
He can function in man systems that press but he needs help over the top or he will be exposed on the outside with his speed. Dennard looks like he can function on the strong side in the NFL and potentially be a nice #2 corner in the right system as long as teams are willing to put him in situations to succeed.
Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State is eerily similar to the Patriots Dennard, Alfonzo. Alfonzo was in the Big Ten at Nebraska and played that same type of physical football where he would press and make the lives of receivers miserable off of the line, but had questions about his long speed as well. Alfonzo ultimately went in round seven but not due to his physical limitations. Rather, he was arrested for allegedly punching a cop leading up to the draft. Nevertheless, when he has been on the field for the Patriots, he has been a big time player for them and already far outplayed his draft status. His problems off the field could be what ends his football career.
Darqueze Dennard is an old school corner in a new school world. He is a tough, physical corner who is looking to hit people when given the opportunity. Dennard leaves it all on the field and really gives a great effort consistently, but the questions with him will be about his speed. Still, Cover-2 teams could end up really liking what Dennard can do for them or a team that is creative with their defensive coverages like the Patriots have been. Dennard could go in the top 75 picks unless his speed and scheme fits are not viewed as a problem.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com