Spartan NFL Combine Report: Tuesday
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis test on the last day of the NFL Combine.
Feb. 25, 2014
Tabbed as a likely first-round pick by several experts in the upcoming NFL Draft, Dennard ran an official time of 4.51 in the 40-yard dash to rank tied for 13th among cornerbacks. The 5-11, 199-pound Dennard was also a top performer in the bench press on Monday, lifting 225 pounds 15 times.
In an interview with the NFL Network following his individual on-field drills, Dennard said he didn't participate in the broad jump or long jump as a precautionary measure due to a "tight" hamstring. He is scheduled to test in those categories at MSU's Pro Day in mid-March.
Dennard met with msuspartans.com for an exclusive interview in Indianapolis before his testing.
"It's been a whirlwind," Dennard said of his NFL Combine experience. "I've got to meet a lot of good players around here that I watched on TV; just the relationships, and also talking with the coaches and stuff, it's been fun."
Performing for the NFL scouts in his hometown, Indianapolis native Isaiah Lewis had a strong day of testing, ranking tied for third among safeties in the vertical jump (36.5 inches), fourth in the broad jump (10'2"), tied for seventh in the three-cone drill (7.05 seconds) and 11th in the 40-yard dash (4.60 seconds). On Monday, he tied for seventh in the bench press with 15 reps of 225 pounds.
UNANIMOUS ALL-AMERICAN, UNANIMOUS PRAISE: Although it's uncertain where he will end up in the NFL Draft, one thing is clear - whichever team that drafts Dennard will be getting a proven, hard-nosed cornerback who won't back down from anyone.
"He's got everything you want in a corner," said former Indianapolis Colts president/general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian. "He's got size. He's got the ability to play off and play press (coverage). He's been in a sophisticated defensive system. He can track the ball, and he's tough. So I don't know what more you want."
Named the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner and a unanimous All-American, Dennard was rated the No. 1 cornerback on the board entering the NFL Combine by NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.
"His toughness (impressed me the most) and a lot of people really don't appreciate that about corners sometimes," said Mayock, who believes Dennard is a potential top-15 selection. "I know how quick he is. He's a prototype press corner, but when push comes to shove and he's got to be physical and make a play, he does it. To me, that's what separates him from most of the corners in this draft."
"The skills are off the charts," said Sirius/XM NFL analyst and former Spartan Radio Network analyst Jim Miller. "He's a smart football player. He's tough; he's physical. He's everything you want for an NFL player, and he's accountable. He shows up every day, every week. He's a reliable player, so the NFL can't get enough guys like Darqueze Dennard. He's going to be an exceptional pro.
"There are certain schemes, say like the Pittsburgh Steelers with their blitz, zone scheme where he would instantly be a plug in and play player. Credit the kid. I'm kind of biased because I played with (secondary coach) Harlon Barnett at Michigan State. Harlon was the last All-American cornerback and then he's coaching Darqueze Dennard, the next All-American cornerback at Michigan State. So he got good coaching, and I think he's going to have a fine NFL career."
One of Dennard's top games from his All-America campaign came against second-ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, where he broke up two passes and also forced a fumble.
NFL Network analyst Charles Davis called the Big Ten Championship Game on FOX Sports and came away very impressed with Dennard's performance against the Buckeyes.
"When you watch him play, it's not just his skill level to me, but it's about how he accepts challenges," said Davis. "(At the Big Ten Championship Game), he was just begging for people to bring passes in his direction, and he was good in the run game. He's a complete corner."
Davis commented that he also feels it's an advantage that Dennard comes from Michigan State, where press-man coverage is emphasized.
"That's one of the toughest things to master - to me, it's harder to master man coverage than it is zone," said Davis. "Zone you drop back to a spot, pattern read, check the quarterback's eyes and break on the football. But man-to-man, that takes somebody mentally tough play in and play out to run and chase and cover these guys, and when a guy catches the ball shake it off and go on to the next play. I think it's definitely an advantage, especially him being so physical in what he's doing out there. You know he's not going to back down from people."
Bruce Feldman, senior college football columnist for CBSSports.com, also sees the scheme at Michigan State helping Dennard at the next level.
"You don't have to wonder about him (Darqueze Dennard)," said Feldman. "A few years ago, Oklahoma had a Jim Thorpe Award winner and it was like `how much did he play on (an island)?' He was a scheme guy, who wasn't doing a lot of stuff that NFL teams were looking at doing at that point. Here, you have a guy and you know how tough he is. You know he's a good tackler because we've seen that on film. The most overused term in college football on defense is shutdown corner, but he is about as close to a shutdown corner as we've seen in a few years."
"He's smart, he's tough, and he has the ability to diagnose a play before it even happens," said Lewis, who started in the secondary three years with Dennard. "(Also) his quickness and being able to stay with receivers and lock them down. He almost gives them no chance. He gives guys a tough time getting off the line. With our defense, he pressed all the time with the corners, and he did a great job with that. Teams are going to love him."
"Darqueze will show them (the scouts) that he is mentally strong, as well as Isaiah," Fowler said. "Both of those guys, the film speaks from themselves. They don't have much to prove football-wise, they just want to see them run fast."
"When you talk about Darqueze, he can cover anybody," said Bullough. "Big, tall, long, skinny, fast, short, good routes, whatever it is, he's done it all, and he's done it all tremendously. I think that's why he's earned his spot as the No. 1 cornerback on the board. I would take him as that too."
WHAT'S NEXT: All of Michigan State's NFL Draft prospects are eligible to participate on MSU's Pro Day, which is set for March 11 in East Lansing.