Now that we covered some of the top WR's and OLB's in this draft, it's time to move on to a position that some believe needs to be addressed, and others do not. That position is Cornerback. The Lions have already invested plenty of draft picks at CB in recent years. Last year they drafted Darius Slay with their 2nd round pick, and in 2012 they took Bill Bentley (3rd round), Chris Greenwood (5th round), and Jonte Green (6th round). So I now pose the question that has been asked plenty of times. Should we spend another draft pick on a cornerback? And should we do so with our 1st round pick? Our very own TuffLynx made a compelling argument on why we should not. But does the Lions front office feel the same? I am of the thinking that we should take a CB only if the best player available happens to be one. The only cornerback that comes to mind when thinking of BPA sitting at #10 is Darqueze Dennard.
Disclaimer: I am a huge Michigan State fan, but I will try to be as objective as possible here.
Darqueze Dennard was a two-star recruit coming out of Twiggs County, Georgia and went into his final high school game without a single football offer. He was told there would be scouts at his final game. He was going up against Keith Mumphrey who had already committed to Michigan State, and some MSU scouts were down there to check out Mumphrey and had no clue who Darqueze Dennard was. Dennard had his only offer pulled away from Middle Tennessee State. Dennard had to play lights out for the scouts to notice him, and that's what happened. And of course him and Mumphrey ended up as roommates at MSU.
During his Freshman year, Dennard didn't get a ton of playing time. But the team thrived as a whole, and the Spartans went 11-2. They made it to #5 in the AP poll during the season, which was their highest point since 1999. The following year he found his niche as the #2 CB behind Johnny Adams. In 2012 and 2013 he helped lead the Michigan State defense to being one of the best in the nation. In 2013, he was awarded the Jim Thorpe award, which is given to the top defensive back in college football.
Dennard isn't the most athletically gifted corner, but he makes up for it with his great defensive awareness and instincts.
In this play, Dennard is lined up approximately 6-7 yards off his man on 4th down and 4. The QB throws a quick pass and immediately Dennard puts his back foot in the ground and starts to break towards the ball showing a good display of his closing speed and awareness. The QB makes a bad throw, but I'm betting Dennard would have forced the incompletion even with a well thrown ball there.
Dennard isn't that fast for a corner, and there were some instances where I felt he let his man get behind him, but he either did a good job recovering to make the play, or got lucky on a poorly thrown ball.
In this play, Dennard is lined up in man coverage. He does a good job of being physical at the line and pushes Davis towards the sideline, but ends up getting beat. He recovers well and maybe gets away with a little bit of grabbing. Then, he times the ball perfect and gets a hold of Davis' arm almost simultaneously to when the ball arrives, and jars the ball lose to force the incompletion. However, you'd have to think that in the NFL that's a completion. Dennard will be going up against faster WR's and better QB's.
Another thing I noticed with Dennard, was that he would start off the play in man coverage and do a great job being physical and staying with his man. Then, he would turn his head to locate the ball, but almost immediately after, he'd turn his head back to his man right before the ball arrived. I'm not really sure what to make of this, because on one hand, it's great that he's turning his head early to locate the ball. On the other hand, I have no idea why he continued to look back at his man instead of try to make the play. Any contact and it's a pass interference because he's no longer playing the ball, and that's just really frustrating as a coach. I'd like to see him locate the ball and stay with it to make a play.
Speaking of making plays, Dennard is not really a playmaking CB. He's more of a lock you down, swat the ball away and get in your face afterwards type of CB. Personally, I love that kind of play. But I'd like to see him develop more as a playmaker as well.
In the game against Notre Dame, the Michigan State secondary was getting tested over and over by Brian Kelly's offense. It was clear the gameplan was to just chuck it deep and hope for a catch or a penalty. That gameplan ended up proving to be genius as MSU was called for 10 penalties for 115 yards that game, mostly on pass interference calls.
Here you will see Dennard in man coverage again. He does a good job forcing the incompletion. But as you can see, he turns his head to locate the ball, then looks back at his man and almost gives up the catch instead of trying to make a play on the ball. If you skip to 1:05, you will see the exact same thing.
One thing that goes unmentioned with Dennard, is his impact as a pass rusher. He's not going to shed many blocks, but if you don't account for him, he will punish you. Under Dantonio's and Narduzzi's defense, Dennard was asked to blitz every so often on 3rd and 4th down. Sometimes he would creep up towards the line of scrimmage, and others he would be lined up across from his man to disguise the blitz and rush the QB off the snap.
Here is an example of Dennard hitting the QB on a 4th down to force an incompletion.
By my count, Dennard was targeted 11 times, was called for 2 penalties, and gave up 1 catch against Notre Dame. A pretty solid performance overall. He also made 2 nice stops against the run and 1 play rushing the QB on 4th down. Obviously he needs to work on those penalties, as one of them was completely unnecessary and could have easily gotten the INT without pulling the WR's arm down. But I can see Dennard being a premier shutdown corner in this league if he gets the right coaching.
Here are some metrics courtesy of Greg Peshek over at www.secondroundstats.com
You can find the full article here. (It was posted on November 30th with about 9 games recorded for each player)
As you can see here, Dennard was targeted the most on balls thrown 20+ yards and 1-5 yards. I'm assuming other teams saw ND test Dennard and the Spartans, and figured they could find some success. But if you look below, Dennard had the most success on balls thrown 20+ yards towards him, only allowing 14.29% of them to be completed. His worst completion % was on throws between 6-10 yards, but only 7.69% of opposing QB's threw it in that range. Also, he didn't allow a single completion on throws between 11-20 yards, which is pretty insane.
To me, Dennard's metrics make him look a lot better than he looks on tape. But I think that's due to his lack of elite athleticism and over aggressiveness at times. I think Dennard can be a solid #1 CB in the NFL, and may even be a top CB at some point. But wherever he goes he'll need to be used the right way. Dennard is best in man coverage, and I would compare the type of player he is to the way Nnamdi Asomugha played in his prime. The Raiders knew how to use Nnamdi and they used him in man coverage pretty much exclusively and he became the best shutdown corner in the NFL. Dennard can play zone coverage, but he's best when matching up 1 on 1 in man coverage, and may even have better ball skills than Nnamdi ever had.
Why We Should Draft Him
The Lions have a new defensive coordinator in Teryl Austin, who is a former secondary coach and he's done a great job developing CB's wherever he goes. If the Lions view Dennard as the best player available here, he could develop into a star along with Darius Slay and give the Lions something they haven't had in a long time. A good secondary and a shutdown corner. The Lions have drafted plenty of CB's in the past couple drafts. But with a new staff, there is no guarantee that guys like Green, Greenwood, and maybe even Bentley will have a roster spot for the upcoming season.
Why We Shouldn't Draft Him
If the Lions draft Dennard, he's not likely to make an enormous impact as it's rare for any rookie CB to come into the league and play well. Patrick Peterson took a year to develop. Morris Claiborne has been up and down. Both Bama CB's Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner struggled after their first full season. So unless you're Joe Haden or Desmond Trufant, it takes a little bit of time to develop as a CB, as it's one of the tougher positions to play. With a new coaching staff in hand, the Lions need to win now. They need a guy sitting there at #10 that can make an immediate impact and help them to a playoff run. Dennard may not be able to get enough playing time and may not be able to have enough impact for that.
Personally, I wouldn't mind taking Dennard. But as of right now, I have guys like Watkins, Evans, Mack, Barr and Lee above him right now. I expect Dennard to slide down to around the 15th-20th overall range. So if we trade down I'd love to see him as an option there.
Next on my list is HaHa Clinton-Dix. I've been intrigued with Calvin Pryor and have done some research on him already, so I might do one on him as well. Then, I'll probably get to some guys who will probably be there for our 2nd round pick. Let me know what you guys think, and rec the post if you like it.