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1st Round: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

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His name is pronounced "DAR-kwez duh-NARD." His cousin, Alfonzo Dennard, is a cornerback with the Patriots. Two-way standout as a Georgia prep. As a senior in 2009, he caught 11 touchdown passes, returned two of his nine interceptions for scores and ran back two punts for touchdowns. Also lettered in basketball and track. Saw action in six games (two starts at boundary corner) as a true freshman in 2010, recording 11 tackles, zero pass breakups and zero interceptions with two tackles for loss, one sack and one forced fumble. Did not see action in two early season games (coach's decision) and missed the final five games with a knee injury. Made 11 starts at boundary corner in '11 and totaled 42-3-3 with one tackle for loss. Tied a Spartans bowl-game record with two interceptions in an Outback Bowl victory over Georgia, including a 38-yard touchdown return. Missed three games with an ankle injury. Started 13 games at field corner in '12, tallying 52-7-3 with 3.5 tackles for loss. After the season, he underwent double hernia surgery and was limited in spring drills. Was the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation's best defensive back in '13, starting 14 times at boundary corner and recording 62-10-4 with 3.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Became the first Spartans cornerback to earn unanimous first-team All-America honors and also was selected as the Big Ten's Defensive Back of the Year. Team captain. Did not do drills at the NFL Scouting Combine because of a left hamstring injury.


STRENGTHS Looks the part -- well-proportioned, muscular physique with strong calves and thin ankles. Good press strength. Controlled, efficient pedal. Field-fast with competitive play speed. Transitions cleanly in man-off coverage. Has very good eyes and anticipation and reacts quickly to what he sees. Good pattern recognition -- sorts out what he sees quickly. Stays in the hip pocket downfield. Swift speed turn. Likeable personality. Accountable with leadership traits.

WEAKNESSES Has been slowed by injuries and durability needs to be examined closely (double hernia surgery). Showed some hip stiffness in combine drills. Was not asked to play a lot of zone coverage. Could stand to get functionally stronger and work to disengage from blocks. Could show more consistent willingness to support the run and set a hard edge. Selective physicality.


BOTTOM LINE Solidly built, athletic, instinctive, press-man cover man who took his game to another level as a senior. Brings intensity, confidence and competitiveness to the corner. Offers size to lock horns with bigger receivers, and has a ceiling as a No. 2 cover man.

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Cracking pick up, has addressed an area of need with a quality player

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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.

Grade: A-.

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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The picks kept coming and going in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night, but as the hours wore on, Darqueze Dennard was still wondering when he might hear his name.

The Michigan State cornerback was rated among the best at his position and many thought he might be a top-10 pick. But instead of worry or get nervous about where he might end up, Dennard took his coach’s advice.

“I was sitting here watching the draft like he was and I texted him,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I said to be cool, be composed, be a rock for your family. And I think two picks later he went to the Bengals.”

It might have been a bit later than many expected, but Dennard did, indeed, go No. 24 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. He became the first Spartan to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Charles Rogers in 2003 and the first defensive player since linebacker Julian Peterson in 2000.

In addition, he becomes the first Spartan defensive back to be picked in the first round since Herb Adderley in 1961.

“I think it was just a relief, actually, getting the call,” Dennard said. “Just talking to all of my coaches, Coach (Pat) Narduzzi and the rest of the coaches. It’s a great feeling knowing where I’m going to go and where I’m going to have a chance to play football. It was just a great feeling.”

Dennard, the Jim Thorpe Award winner, was the third cornerback selected. Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert was the first cornerback selected, going No. 8 overall to the Cleveland Browns, and the Chicago Bears selected Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the No. 14 pick.

While many expected Dennard to go earlier, including the Bengals, Dennard did say he had plenty of contact with the Bengals, including at the combine and taking a visit to Cincinnati.

The Bengals were certainly glad they had the chance to take him when they did, despite finishing third in the league in defense last season. But they need help in the secondary as Leon Hall is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and Terence Newman and Adam “Pacman” Jones turn 36 and 31 this year, respectively.

“He’s the guy in this draft that really fit us,” first-year defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “Cornerback was one of the spots in the draft we definitely wanted to look at. I thought he’d be gone in the middle of the round. It was a no-brainer for us at that point.”

Dennard chose not to attend the draft in New York and instead watched at a Macon, Ga., hotel with family and friends.

And as the picks kept going on Thursday, it was Dennard’s family that was starting to worry.

“I didn’t pay attention to the mock drafts at all,” Dennard said. “(My family), they were actually getting nervous and were upset about a couple of the picks. My friends did a great job of lightening the mood, getting up dancing and saying jokes. It got better as the draft was going when they were dancing and telling jokes, so it was cool.”

What’s not a joke is the production Dennard brings to Cincinnati.

He closed out and impressive four-year career at Michigan State by winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in the nation, the first Spartan to ever win the award. He was also a first-team All-American as well as the winner of the Jack Tatum Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back by the Touchdown Club of Columbus.

Dennard was also a first-team All-Big Ten selection with four interceptions and 10 pass breakups and was named the Tatum-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year,

The native of Dry Branch, Ga., totaled 167 tackles and 30 passes defended (10 interceptions, 20 pass break-ups) in 44 career games, including 40 starts in his career at Michigan State.

“He’s not the athlete or return man that Justin Gilbert is,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “But he is a better overall football player, a better technician in the secondary.

“I think it’s one of the better picks of the first round right now -- the Bengals getting Dennard at No. 24 when he could have gone nine, 10, 11, 12 and nobody would have had any argument at all.”

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140508/SPORTS0101/305080149#ixzz31DTniwNo

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Early on in the draft process, I made the comment that if Dennard was there at #24 the Bengals should run to the podium.

Just another year when a player most thought would be gone, fell down the board due to no fault of his own.

Glad we were the benefactors of that fall !!! At a position of need as well ??

Considering others players available- "A+"

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Hard to believe he was there. He would have been one of my two dream picks (Aaron Donald the other) at 24 and I figured there was no chance.

Thrilled is an understatement.

This reminds me of the 2000s when the Ravens and Steelers would pick around 24 and then fall ass backwards into a great defensive player who slid but shouldn't have. Glad the Bengals now have the confidence to trust their scouting and board and make the right pick when the gift presents itself.

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I think the extra two weeks before the draft may have worked in the Bengals' favor. Dennard and Fuller pretty much switched positions over the last couple of weeks, which was blamed on Dennard's injury history in college. That injury history is old news, but this year teams had an extra two weeks to worry at it, and this was the result. So while I still hate the May draft, there's a silver lining.

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Local view from the Michigan Spartans site. This part stood out for me:

"The first thing the Cincinnati organization can expect from Darqueze Dennard is a very professional attitude in his general lifestyle and preparation," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. "He brings the right attitude and effort to work every day. He's a recent graduate of Michigan State. Darqueze had a 3.66 grade-point average this semester, and that's just another indicator of his work ethic. He continues to strive for excellence,

"Darqueze has tremendous ball skills, and he's extremely quick. Most people don't know that he had a hamstring injury going into the NFL Combine and he still ran a respectable 40. With that injury behind him, he'll run as fast as anyone on the football field. In addition, he's a great tackler. During his college career, Darqueze played every position in the secondary: star, safety, boundary corner and field corner.

"He has `it.' Darqueze possesses all of those intangibles that allow him to gain ground and constantly improve as a player. He's an extremely humble young man, and he's going to be an asset in the Greater Cincinnati community."

God forbid the media notice since it would screw with their lazy "thug Bengals" narrative, but DD is yet another high-character guy.

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I think I read something like 111 passes were thrown his way and only 17 of them were caught. He is the most ready CB in the draft

Yah here's that breakdown:

The media has attached the moniker of “Air Traffic Controller” on the senior cornerback and dubbed the territory that Dennard covers as a “No Fly Zone.” The Spartan defender has more than lived up to that lofty billing. During his senior campaign, Dennard had 118 passes targeted into his area, allowing just eighteen of those tosses to be completed (15.25%) for 104 yards, as he recorded fourteen passes defended (four interceptions, ten deflections) and rerouted/jammed his man coverage assignments away from 67 of those tosses (56.78%).

Those receivers produced an average of 5.78 yards per reception vs. Dennard, the lowest figure by any starting defensive back since the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era began in 1998. He also held the opposition to an average of 0.88 yards per pass attempt.

That pass attempt figure is the lowest ever recorded by any college player since The NFL Draft Report, a scouting information service, began compiling in-depth statistical reports for the league in 1968. In fact, only two other players went through an entire season allowing less that one yard per pass attempt.

Jim Marsalis of Tennessee State, held those receivers to just 0.969 yards per attempt in 1968. Marsalis was selected in the first round of the 1969 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, earning league Defensive Rookie of the Year honors that season. He started for the Chiefs throughout the 1976 season before ending his career as a member of the New Orleans Saints in 1977.

Marsalis was later followed by Deion Sanders of Florida State in 1988 (0.935 yard average), as the two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year made his professional debut with the Atlanta Falcons in 1989 after they selected him in the first round of the draft. He played for Atlanta until 1993, spending time with San Francisco (1994), Dallas (1995-1999) and Washington (2000) before ending his NFL career with Baltimore (2004-2005). That places Dennard is some very elite company, but the “ever so humble” Georgia native has only one goal in mind as his college career came to an end – helping the Spartans defeat Stanford in the 2014 Rose Bowl.

If DD = Deion, we got the steal of the draft.

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