Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard had a breakout year in 2013. He was crowned the nation’s best defensive back after winning the Jim Thorpe Award and helped pace the Spartans’ defense to a top five national ranking.
Dennard’s individual success, along with the team’s on-field success, has allowed his NFL draft stock to skyrocket.
Dennard is essentially a lock as a first-round draft pick, as many teams have defensive secondary needs this year. He, along with Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, are considered the top two corners in the 2014 draft.
Although Dennard’s size (5-foot-11, 197 pounds) is a slight concern for NFL general managers, but his physicality and instincts are seen as too impressive to pass up on.
Here are, in my opinion, the top five first round fits for Darqueze Dennard when the NFL Draft begins on May 8.
* * *
How can you not start with the hometown team here? When thinking about the draft needs for the Lions, one word comes to mind: secondary.
Although they have a fearsome front four that live up to the Lions’ nickname, the secondary would compare more closely to kittens. In my opinion, it would be in Detroit’s best interest to decide between Dennard and Gilbert for this pick, and I believe Dennard has more ability to step into a starting role on day one.
However, there are rumors that Detroit has been very impressed by BYU’s outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Detroit may also look to pick up a receiver to help out Calvin Johnson.
There are plenty of great receivers to pick from in this class, such as Clemson’s Sammy Watkins or Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. The Lions’ decision will be determined heavily on what other teams do before they have their first pick at No. 10.
* * *
New York Giants
The New York Giants had a nightmare of a season in 2013 and are looking to fill multiple holes on draft day.
Amongst their biggest needs are linebackers and offensive linemen to give quarterback Eli Manning more time in the pocket, but they also need some help at the cornerback position. They could use another good corner to play alongside Prince Amukamara. However, with a group of corners who are already considered undersized, they may try to address one of their other needs with their first pick at No. 12.
* * *
The Pittsburgh Steelers have long had a dominant defense. However, there’s a limited amount of seasons that a player can dominate in the NFL, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Many players in the Steelers’ secondary are either past their prime or reaching the twilight of their career. Among those players are starting corners William Gay (entering his eighth season) and Ike Taylor (entering his 12th season). They need youth at the corner position and preferably a player who could start from day one. Dennard fits both of those molds and would be a great pickup at the 15th pick.
* * *
The Bengals, much like the Steelers, are in desperate need of more depth at cornerback. Again, like the Steelers, their corners are reaching the end of their careers. Their starters are Adam “Pacman” Jones (entering his ninth season) and Terence Newman (entering his 13th season).
Off the bench they have fourth-year man Dre Kirkpatrick, but he has been considered a “bust” so far in his NFL career. If Dennard hasn’t been picked up by the time the Bengals have their first pick at No. 24, he would be a steal for a team looking to make a playoff run next season.
* * *
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers’ first pick of the NFL Draft comes at pick No. 25, right after the Bengals. If Dennard is still available at this point, it would be like Christmas Day for them. San Diego ranked 29th in passing defense last season, as they allowed over 260 yards per game.
Starting cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall combined for only one interception in the regular season. On top of that, Marshall is a free agent this offseason. They desperately need a cornerback, so if Dennard or even Gilbert are available at this point they will most likely pick a corner. However if they are both off the market, the Chargers may look to strengthen their offensive line and wait until the second round to pick a corner like Ohio State’s Bradley Roby or Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner.
Dan Tyler is the host of Spartan Red Zone for Impact Sports.
Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports