Big Ten's Best CB Prospect: Roby Vs. Dennard
By Bill Lund
At the start of the 2013 season, all eyes were on Bradley Roby, the outstanding Ohio State cornerback who chose to return to school for his junior season despite a top-10 ranking as draft prospect. As the 2013 season has unfolded, Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State has risen to an elite level with his play on the top-ranked Spartans defense. Each of these players will be a highly coveted selection come spring of 2014. The question remains, which one is the best cornerback prospect in the Big Ten?
Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Roby was a first-team All-Big Ten corner in 2012. At 5-foot-11, 192 pounds, Roby has the athletic pedigree teams covet in a corner. Roby has clocked a reported 4.3 40, and has shown his “game” speed matching up with the Big Ten’s best stride for stride. Plus, he has tremendous quickness to go along with his speed. Roby shows tremendous timing in breaking up passes, and he has excellent change of direction skills and body control.
So far this season, Roby has not been as dominant as he was in 2012. In his matchup with Wisconsin earlier this year, Roby had difficulty defending the sharp cuts and double moves by Jared Abbrederis. Roby looked lost at times in zone coverage as well, which may be more of an indicator of focus than ability. Roby needs to develop a stronger understanding of route combinations in zone coverage as he was baited by the Badgers to jump shallow routes.
When it comes to making tackles, Roby too often throws his shoulder instead of wrapping up and missed ballcarriers in the open field -- another area for improvement.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Michigan State's senior corner has been an integral part of the top-ranked defense in the country. At 5-11, 197, Dennard has a smooth pedal and transitions fluidly into running with receivers. Dennard has shown the speed to match up with anyone. He held Michigan standout Jeremy Gallon (who was coming off a Big Ten-record 369-yard performance vs. Indiana) to just 67 yards.
Dennard shows excellent ability in playing zone and man coverage. Dennard is at his best in press coverage were he can call on his physical style of play to collide with and reroute receivers. He is a savvy player who does an exceptional job maintaining or regaining positioning with receivers down the field.
Dennard is superb at leveraging himself while locating the ball to defend it. He has the speed to track down runners in the open field and the quickness and reaction time to break on balls thrown in front of him. He is aggressive attacking ballcarriers, but he misses out on too many tackles with poor technique trying to make a big hit.
The Big Ten's best cornerback prospect is . . .
Roby has that rare athletic ability NFL teams want in a cornerback. With his good size, smooth hips and speed to match up, what’s not to like? But questions have been raised about Roby in 2013, specifically about his focus and comprehension of route combinations. Top-flight wideouts have been able to shake open, off the line of scrimmage or off breaks.
Dennard was highly regarded coming into this season, but he's increased his stock with his stellar play. Like Roby, Darqueze has the measurables NFL teams want. Dennard has shown he can be physical and athletic, and he's extremely instinctive and versatile. Dennard can match up on outside receivers or inside against slot receivers. With a creative coordinator, he could be utilized much like Charles Woodson has been used as a playmaker over his career.
Dennard hasn’t been hyped like Roby was prior to the start of the season, but he's raised his level of play to equal Roby’s -- if not surpass him. Their respective performances in the upcoming Big Ten championship game may go a long way in establishing who the league's best cornerback prospect is.