2014 NFL Draft Player Profiles – Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard

By Alex Kozora

Our focus has shifted to the offseason and for the next few months, I’ll be providing scouting reports on several draft prospects. Some of these players the Pittsburgh Steelers may look at and others will be top players that will be off the board before they select. All to make you as prepared as possible for the 2014 NFL Draft.

A breakdown of one of the top cornerbacks in the 2014 class. Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard.

Darqueze Dennard/CB Michigan St: 5’10/7 199

The Good

– Physical in coverage, at his best in bump and run, very natural

– Fluid hips

– Attacks the ball in the air well, great job of playing the pocket of the receiver

– Has recovery speed when beat

– Average tackler but willing to support the run and get his nose dirty

– Soft hands

– Makes some splash plays

– Some special teams work

– Lined up inside and out, used on multiple blitzes

– Tons of starting experience

– Productive career and outstanding senior season

– Came up big in bowl games

The Bad

– Not tiny but has a lean build

– Doesn’t have top notch speed

– Can get overaggressive and physical in coverage, prone to penalties

– Not particularly explosive, wasted motion in his break on the ball

– Will miss some tackles and doesn’t pack much of a punch

– Doesn’t look comfortable in off coverage, covering the deep third


– 40 career starts

– Unanimous All-American in 2013

– Jim Thorpe Winner, given to nation’s top defensive back

– Two time First Team All-Big Ten (2012, 2013)

– Worked as a jammer

– 10 career interceptions, including four senior year

– 30 pass breakups, 14 senior year

– Three interceptions in three career bowl games

– Missed final five games of freshman year with knee injury

– Receiver/defensive back in high school, intercepted nine passes and caught 11 touchdowns senior year

Tape Breakdown

There’s no question that not only does Dennard prefer to be physical and coverage, he thrives on it. Receivers to him are what the blanket was to Linus. Always holding on.



Island coverage, no help over the top. Bumps with the receiver and then plays the pocket to knock the ball away on this attempted back shoulder throw.

Love this play in the end zone. Receiver has a step but Dennard plays the pocket, swipes through the receiver’s hands at the right moment (as the receiver stretches his hands out), and knocks it away. That’s big time.

Soft hands and quick reaction. Takes advantage of this pass thrown to the inside shoulder, flips, and intercepts it. Again, the physicality to not allow the receiver to cross his face and make a play on the ball.

Typically not a big hitter but will support the run and doesn’t shy away from contact. Recorded two forced fumbles in 2013, one example below against Ohio St.

The negatives may not be many but there showed up in consistently. His physicality is a blessing and a curse. Can be overaggressive and his penchant for grabbing receivers will not endear him to referees on Sundays.

Called for pass interference on the play below and the interception obviously negated.

And holding against Stanford.

Although he does eventually make the tackle, has some trouble tracking down the running back. Don’t see him as someone who has elite speed. It’s above average but not great.

Gets run off with speed against this deep out. That is going to happen and as a corner, you have to assume the route is going to go vertical, but there’s some wasted motion coming out of his break. Little more rounded than you’d like breaking on the ball after he flips. Doesn’t allow him to get to the receiver until well after the pass has been caught. It’s not a major concern but he isn’t as explosive in his click and close as others I’ve studied like Victor Hampton and Jason Verrett.

There’s two questions that have to be asked when evaluating any player. Does the talent exist to make the transition from college to the NFL? And does the player fit into our scheme?

The answer to the first is fairly obvious. Dennard is an excellent cover corner who loves to mix it up with receivers and is at his best when the ball is in the air. And he supports the run well enough that he isn’t a liability, even if it isn’t his best asset.

The answer to the second question is murkier and gets into the philosophy of the draft. Dennard does not fit the Steelers’ scheme. William Gay, Cortez Allen, those guys get to play off coverage, carry anything vertical in their deep third, and break on short/intermediate routes. In other words, the exact opposite of Dennard’s style.

Does that mean the Steelers’ can’t or shouldn’t take him? Of course not. Coaching is nothing if not adaptive. Dick LeBeau would find ways to incorporate Dennard’s strengths…to some extent. But at its core, I don’t see the scheme changing and ultimately, some of his ability would be wasted away. Now you’re projecting a player of how he’ll fit into a different scheme, making the evaluation much trickier.

Is Dennard a bad pick? No, though I continue to harp on the fact the team does not value its cornerbacks highly. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see another corner selected that fits the scheme better, either.

Projection: Top 20

Games Watched: at Notre Dame, vs Michigan, at Ohio St, vs Stanford (Bowl)

Previous Scouting Reports:
Buffalo LB Khalil Mack
Illinois State T/G Josh Aladenoye
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Stanford ILB Shayne Skov/a>
Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
Auburn T Greg Robinson
Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman
Notre Dame NT Louis Nix III
Auburn LB Dee Ford
Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
North Dakota State T Billy Turner
Boston College RB Andre Williams
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy
Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
Tennessee NT Daniel McCullers
Colorado State DE/OLB Shaquil Barrett
Alabama T Cyrus Kouandjio
Tennessee T Antonio Richardson
Central Florida RB Storm Johnson
Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller
Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
West Virginia DE Will Clarke
Louisville S Calvin Pryor
Wisconsin ILB Chris Borland
Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews
Virginia T Morgan Moses
Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt
Mississippi WR Donte Moncrief
Central Florida QB Blake Bortles
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel
North Carolina DE Kareem Martin
UCLA OLB Anthony Barr
South Carolina CB Victor Hampton
Clemson WR Martavis Bryant
Fresno State WR Davante Adams
Texas DE/OLB Jackson Jeffcoat

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    To be clear, I would love to have Dennard as a Steeler. He would be an upgrade.

    But I don’t view him as the “elite CB” that some fans do. I have concerns about his deep speed and his ability to defend taller WR’s, down the field, one on one.

    If it’s fair to discuss Benjamin’s flaws and Ebron’s flaws, it should be fair to discuss Dennard’s flaws as well… Right?

  • mlc43

    I like Dennard a lot. He’s gonna get nailed with PI calls on a regular basis in the NFL if he doesn’t get a little more sneaky, lol. He’s going to be a boom or bust player with his playing style. I’m a little concerned with his speed when it comes to having to take on elite WRs every Sunday. I would prefer Gilbert but wouldn’t fret too much about getting him. I doubt we’ll get either, though. Wish the draft would hurry up and get here.

  • kev4heels

    Too bad we didn’t use your philosophy when taking Ziggy Hood 4/5 years ago. Round peg – square hole. Just didn’t fit the scheme…at all.

  • steeltown

    …Kyle Fuller

  • dkoy85

    My favorite CB for the Steelers in the draft. I wish he would somehow tumble down to the 2nd rd. Or a trade back to grab Benjamin/Tuitt and a trade up to grab Fuller. Wouldn’t be a better way to start the draft IMO.

  • steeltown

    Oh man.. Tuitt AND Fuller, I’d be ecstatic!

  • Craig Ressler

    Dennard is one of those players that if for some reason he can’t cut it a CB (which I ultimately think he will), I believe will make an above average S. Aaron Williams who came out of Texas a couple of years ago has taken this route and is now a good NFL S.

  • dkoy85

    I sure hope so. If that is the case there is a chance he is there with our 2nd pick- a small one, but a chance. Hopefully the CB needy teams ahead of us will have already addressed their CB needs in rd 1.

  • Tullydew

    Kyle Fuller, Verrett and E. J. Gaines are better scheme fits for the Steelers. These are tacklers who thrive in off coverage. E. J. Gaines would be a nice 3rd round pick.

  • moderatelysane

    I think this is your best yet, Alex. I have precisely the same view of Dennard. Not sure he fits the scheme, and he has a real problem with holding receivers. I can see Torrey Smith drawing three penalties every game.

  • I love the way Dennard plays the game….It’s the way the game should be played and should be allowed to be played IMO. With that said, it does seem like our scheme doesn’t play to his strength even though I believe he can still be good in our scheme it might not make sense to take a player that high if we can’t allow him to play to HIS strengths. It just limits that players abilities. With that said, I am tired of playing OFF COVERAGE!

    We like big physical CB’s but we don’t want them playing in the other WR’s face and putting their hands on them.

  • dgh57

    If you want more physicality out of your CB and want to put more press coverage into your defense Dennard would be a way to accomplish this. That would be about the only reason we would be drafting him. I’m getting tired of this playing 10 yards off most of the time and would welcome Dennard but only if the coaches felt like his flaws could be worked out of him.

  • dgh57

    If we were to draft Dennard he would be allowed to play to his strengths because that would be the reason we drafted him in the first place and that is want to play more press coverages. I agree with the I’m tired of the off coverage thing also!

  • Johnny Loose

    Kid looks tough no denying that. I think better value could be had in anywhere in the 2nd, possible through the 4th round. If he is there at 15, my guess is we don’t bite. Hard to tell what they scout for exactly and what intangibles they want to see the most over others. If they do grab him at 15, I trust they’ve scouted him enough to know they can make something of him.

  • Xclewsive

    I’d compare Dennard to Haden as a CB.

    Dennard is my favorite player in the draft so my opinion on him is biased.

    The steelers need to evolve as a defense as the off coverage that they consistently play is similar to the 3 yards and the cloud of dust offense they used in the past. Dennard is not Troy Polamalu, but the Steelers used Troy’s ability to the utmost through his entire career. Dennards ability will help the Steelers usher more defensive schemes/play calls/coverage’s which could bring more disguises on defense. Which can ultimately help the Steelers pressure the QB, which gets the defense off the field on 3rd downs or causes turnovers.

    I’m Xclewsive and I endorse this message!

  • blackandgoldBullion

    How about Kyle Fuller and SJB?

  • blackandgoldBullion

    As a potential Steelers, he would get called a lot for PI penalties. If he goes to the Seahawks, he won’t get called much, just like the rest of the Hawks last year.

  • Ike Evans

    I actually disagree about kyle fuller thriving in off coverage….he’s really better man to man…playing press….ej Gaines is sooooo underrated too…love that kid

  • Paul Barracliffe

    This guy would be ok but as a lifelong Steelers fan I am beating the table to pieces for AAron Donald to fulfill our 2 biggest needs: Gamechanger/5 tech defensive end. Will someone give me a good reason why we shouldn’t?

  • steelster

    A steeler fan upset with the seahawks not getting called for penalties. How ironic.