Thought by many to be the best overall defensive back in the 2014 NFL Draft, Darqueze Dennard will turn a lot of heads in Cincinnati Bengals training camp. His combination of size, athleticism and natural coverage ability gives him a great opportunity to be a Week 1 starter.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis went so far as to say that Dennard is a top-ten prospect in the 2014 rookie class and that the team seriously considered trading up to get the corner. The Bengals have good reason to be pleased with their first-round pick—the Michigan State product has ideal size (5-foot-11, 199-pounds) to match up with big NFL receivers, and he has surprising speed. Dennard, who is a distant cousin of New England Patriots corner Alfonzo Dennard, also excels at recognizing patterns and anticipating throws—he puts himself in good positions to make interceptions.
The Bengals were smart to nab Dennard in the first round because he brings youth to an aging cornerback group. Terence Newman (35), Leon Hall (30) and Adam Jones (30) are in the twilight of their NFL careers, while Dre Kirkpatrick and Chris Lewis-Harris are each unproven players who are heading into their third year in the league. It’s clear that the Bengals hope to plug Dennard into the starting lineup, as he has been taking first-team reps in recent OTA sessions. He lined up in both the slot and on the outside, indicating that the team plans to use him in a variety of areas.
Newman, Hall and Jones may be getting up in age, but they are still capable starters. And Kirkpatrick showed promise as the 2013 season progressed. Training camp will be far from a breeze for Dennard; he will have to separate himself from this group of veterans if he wants to see significant playing time in September. Don’t be surprised if the Bengals coaching staff throws Dennard into the fire by matching him up against star wide receiver A.J. Green.
Despite competing against a pool of experienced corners, Dennard is in good position to have a very good camp and should be penciled in as a starter for Week 1. At this point, although it’s early June, Dennard is definitely an early contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year.