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
- 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
- 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
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