Recently, I wrote about my observation of a consensus slowly coalescing around the likely target for the 15th overall pick that the Pittsburgh Steelers possess in the upcoming draft, which is narrowing in on the cornerback position.
Since then, that consensus seems to be narrowing in even further on Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, a former teammate of last year’s second-round draft pick, Le’Veon Bell.
Previously unconvinced, Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider has recently come around to him, as has Matt C. Steel. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, too, is among the many linking Dennard to the Steelers, although he has the St. Louis Rams picking up the cornerback two spots ahead of Pittsburgh’s in the first round.
Kiper said during a conference call last week that “the ideal pick if you’re the Steelers is Darqueze Dennard”, as recounted by Scott Brown of ESPN.
“He’s a Steeler. Rough, tough, aggressive football player, plays with a chip on his shoulder, very good in coverage, plays faster than he timed. Just a whale of a football player”.
One of the key aspects of Dennard’s game that led Kiper to associating him with the Steelers is his aggressive tackling approach against both the pass and the run, which is an essential quality of a cornerback in Dick LeBeau’s scheme.
“That’s an underrated part of playing corner”, according to Kiper, but is essential in Pittsburgh. He went on to say that Dennard is probably in the top 10 “pure football players” coming out in this draft.
The Steelers leadership team, including head coach Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have done their due diligence on draft prospects this year, as with every year, personally attending a number of pro days for prospective draft targets.
Perhaps nobody has received more attention from the brain trust heading into the draft than has Dennard. Both Tomlin and Colbert personally attended his pro day back in March.
That in itself is not out of the ordinary, but it’s worth noting that that pro day came on the first day of free agency, and while the Steelers are not normally major players in free agency in general, let alone the first day, that was not the case this year. I think that speaks to how much they valued the opportunity to get a first-hand look at Dennard.
The Steelers also brought him in to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit earlier this month. Dennard, recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in the country last season, seems to be emerging as the favorite target.
I am not making a formal prediction or creating a first round mock draft, nor am I injecting my own opinion of Dennard as a player or a person. I’m simply trying to read the tea leaves, and as the draft finally draws near, those leaves are telling me that if Dennard is available at 15, they won’t be able to rush to the podium fast enough to make him a Steeler.