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MSU's Darqueze Dennard Next Shutdown Corner

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Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard is the best in the nation right now at locking down receivers. Photo by David Dermer/Getty Images.
Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard is the best in the nation right now at locking down receivers. Photo by David Dermer/Getty Images.

Ohio State’s Bradley Roby is not the best cornerback in the country. Nor is it Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Say no to Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller and Texas Christian’s Jason Varret, too.

The best cornerback in the country has to be Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard.

Consider this. Dennard has allowed 12 of the 81 passes thrown to his receiver be completed, and quarterbacks are averaging 0.87 yards per pass attempt against him for a total of 72 yards. To put that into perspective, no team is averaging less than 5 yards per pass attempt.

No matter what receiver he covers, he’s like lice in a child’s hair. You just can’t shake him off and leave him behind.

However, Dennard only has three interceptions, nine passes defensed and seven pass breakups this season. Either the quarterbacks he has faced can’t hit their targets or the receivers just can’t catch the ball.

Right?

Not quite. Nearly half the passes he has defensed or broken up came against Western Michigan and South Florida. Although, the effect Dennard has on opposing quarterbacks and their receivers is clear on tape.

What makes Dennard special is his body positioning.

I know what you’re thinking. What does that mean?

An easy example would be Dennard covering a receiver on a go route. Cornerbacks are supposed to get inside positioning and force the receiver toward the sideline to make a completion more difficult.

On first-and-10 from Nebraska's own 41-yard line last week, Dennard covered Quincy Enunwa in the right slot. Dennard's initial jam forced the receiver outside just a bit, and then Dennard got his right arm in front of Enunwa, giving Dennard good enough positioning to force a deep incompletion.

A few weeks earlier, Dennard lined up in press coverage against Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon. Dennard again forced the receiver to the outside, leaving little room for Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who threw an interception on the play.

It really is all about knowing how to position yourself in coverage, and Dennard has the physicality and knowledge to legally manipulate a receiver’s route and force quarterbacks to throw through smaller windows.

Still, Dennard has to improve in some areas. He has to work on his initial break toward running plays, though that’s partly because he locks on and stays with receivers in man coverage, almost entirely ignoring the run. He is more likely to support the run defense if he is in a zone coverage, which enables him to read the offense as the play develops.

On one play against Michigan, he was covering a deep third of the field when Gardner floated outside of the pocket. With no receivers in his area, Dennard charged Gardner, who suddenly froze at the line of scrimmage. Dennard tackled Gardner behind the line of scrimmage after the quarterback retreated, showing great closing speed in the process.

If Dennard isn’t chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft, 32 teams later will be forced answer, "Why not?"