Experienced and successful against good college receivers
Improved each season
Ready to play
Flexible to play in man or zone scheme
Needs to learn off-man coverage
Tight in his hips
Could struggle to turn and run with speed receivers
Short arms (30 1/4")
Doesn't have much length
Summary: Dennard spent the past three years as a key cog of a tough Michigan State defense. He first broke into the lineup as a sophomore when he had three interceptions, 42 tackles and three passes broken up in 2011.
In 2012 teammate Johnny Adams was expected to lead the Spartans' secondary, but it was Dennard who was the most impressive defensive back. He had a good season and was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection. The junior recorded 52 tackles with three interceptions and seven passes broken up.
Dennard saved his best for last as he turned into a superb senior season to vault himself into possibly being a first-round pick. He had a lot of good games in 2013 and came up with a number of clutch plays in close wins for the Spartans. Dennard was excellent against Michigan and did a good job of covering speedy Wolverines receiver Jeremy Gallon.
Dennard had a clutch performance to help Michigan State top Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. All season, the Spartans left him on an island and he did a superb job of maintaining tight coverage while playing press man coverage. Dennard recorded 62 tackles with 10 passes broken up and four interceptions in 2013.
At the Combine, Dennard had a mixed outing. He addressed speed concerns with a quality 4.51 time in the 40-yard dash. On the flip side, Dennard exposed his stiff hips and vulnerability to off-man coverage. He also checked in with shorter arms than the other top cornerbacks: Justin Gilbert, Kyle Fuller and Bradley Roby.
Dennard is a press-man corner who could play quickly in the NFL. He is very good at jamming receivers and maintaining coverage as they run downfield. Dennard is physical with receivers and is a gritty defender who has a real presence. Dennard does a nice job of playing the ball to slap away incompletions or snatch the pass away for an interception. He also does well in zone coverage.
However, Dennard may be a nickel early on until he can learn to play off-man coverage. Offenses will use bunch formations to get Dennard off the line of scrimmage and force him to play off-man. Until he gets off-man coverage down, Dennard could have some growing pains. Still, man-cover corners like Dennard are tough to find and his issues should be rectifiable in the NFL.
Dennard should go in the top-25 picks of the 2014 NFL Draft. In the long run, he should become a quality starting cornerback in the NFL.
Player Comparison: Kareem Jackson. After some growing pains, Jackson is turning into a solid cornerback for Houston. Jackson (5-10, 188) is similar to Dennard not only in size, but in also having been mainly press-man corners in college. It wouldn't be surprising if Dennard has the same early bumps that Jackson had. Jackson was the 20th-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, while Dennard could easily go around around that same place.
NFL Matches: Detroit, St. Louis, Tennessee, Chicago, Green Bay, Cincinnati, San Diego, San Francisco
There are a lot of teams that could target Dennard in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The highest that he could hope to go would be the Lions.
Detroit could consider taking Dennard with the 10th-overall pick since the team needs a No. 1 corner. I'm skeptical that the Lions will take a corner because Martin Mayhew put money into Chris Houston while using early-round picks on Darius Slay and Bullet Bill Bentley, along with some other draft picks. Detroit also hired the Ravens defensive backs coach Teryl Austin to be its defensive coordinator, and I think the Lions want Austin to fix the secondary rather than use their first-round pick for it. Still, Dennard is in play for Detroit.
Tennessee could consider drafting Dennard considering Alterraun Verner wasn't re-signed. The Titans may want to get a potential No. 1 corner for Ray Horton's defense.
After releasing Cortland Finnegan, St. Louis could be one of the favorites to take Dennard with its first-round pick at No. 13. The Rams could use a corner to pair with Janoris Jenkins, and Gilbert would be a good scheme fit for them. Landing the No. 1-rated corner with the 13th pick is good value.
Even though the Bears re-signed their veterans, Chicago could draft a cornerback in the first round. That is unlikely, but the organization still needs some long-term corners.
The Steelers could use a young replacement for Ike Taylor, but in past years, Pittsburgh has drafted its cornerbacks after the first round.
Green Bay wants to improve the speed on its defense, so the Packers will probably take the best defensive prospect that falls to them. If Dennard is on the board, he may be the top defender available and thus, Green Bay would grab him.
Cincinnati could use some youth at corner. Veteran Leon Hall is coming off an Achilles injury, while Adam Jones and Terrance Newman are aging. Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick would give the Bengals a talented young duo, and the team looks like a good fit for Dennard in the first round.
In the AFC West, San Diego has a huge need at cornerback and cut Derek Cox. The Chargers need to land multiple corners, and Dennard would be a big upgrade.
There is little chance that Dennard would fall to the 49ers late in the first round, but San Francisco has a lot of picks on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft. Thereby, the tea, could move up to get him. The 49ers could use some youth at corner, and Dennard would be a nice scheme fit.