How does Darqueze Dennard Fit as a Charger?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Using the coaches tape to see how the Jim Thorpe award winner translates to the next level

If you like physical football, then you're a fan of the 2013 Jim Thorpe award winner, Darqueze Dennard. When he gets his hands on you at the line of scrimmage, it's RIP, you've already lost. He's going to re-direct you, or you're simply not going to get open. Physicality isn't Dennard's best trait, it's his technique. He's a great technician. He wins at the line of scrimmage, where he's very patient, shows good initial footwork, and does a great job of putting himself in a position to make a play.

The below GIF is Dennard winning with patience, on an in route by the receiver.

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Certainly nothing flashy, but Dennard shows the ability to mirror, and change directions while still maintaining his position to make a play on the ball.

In my opinion, Dennard's athleticism is being under sold. At the combine, he ran a 4.51 40 yard dash, which exactly average at the position. What isn't being mentioned is what Dennard did at his pro day. He had a 36 1/2 vertical jump, and an 11 foot 2 inch broad jump. That broad jump shows incredible lower body explosiveness. That number would have tied him for the highest number out of all the participants at the combine.

While Dennard does have some tightness when he goes to turn and run, the fact that he still doesn't get beat is a feat in it's own right. Below, he's running with this years late riser of the draft, Cody Latimer(who ran has high as a 4.38 at his pro day.)

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Dennard isn't going to win any races, but he's fast enough to play the position at the next level.

Getting Grabby

What's widely synonymous when mentioning Dennard is his hand usage. Some good, mostly bad.

Dennard certainly doesn't hide the fact that he gets grabby in routes.

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For me, I view it as a savvy, 10 year veteran type of move. He didn't get called for holding when he did this, so why would he stop? I do think he can get too grabby at times, but I think Dennard has great hand usage at the snap, and at the top of the route.

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Even when he's just mirroring the receiver, he shows the ability to stay on top of the receiver, and make a play on the ball.

No Issues Turning & Running

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Charger fans should know this feeling all too well. A defensive back who doesn't turn and locate the ball. Dennard is high on the list when it comes to getting his head around, and locating the ball on time to make a play.

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Best of all, he's playing the ball once he pinned the receiver to the sideline. Great instincts and feel here.

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Most defensive backs lose speed when they go to locate the ball. This isn't an issue with Dennard. He showed that he can play the ball in the air, and is comfortable in doing so.

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I'm showing so many of these, because it's been mentioned that Dennard struggles to turn and run, and that's just something I didn't see. Not only can he turn and run, but he plays the ball in the air. This is a trait that NFL corners struggle with.

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Dennard has an underrated ability to close, and break up the catch when the ball is in the air.

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Limited To Press?

I don't believe Dennard is limited to just playing press coverage. At Michigan State, he was mainly used in press situations, or a press bail type of technique. Because he's such an aware player, with very good route recognition, he's comfortable playing off coverage, and can diagnose plays quickly, making him play faster than he actually is.

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Dennard understands route concepts so well. He knows how to play the chains, and isn't shy about sticking his nose in there to make a play, either.

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In off coverage, you have to be able to read both the receiver and the quarterback. This is another area Dennard excels, and why I believe he's not limited to just press coverage.

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So Why Is He Falling?

I can understand how teams wouldn't like Dennard's playing style. He uses his hands to win, and at the next level, this will result into pass interference calls or holding calls. Last year, Minnesota Vikings rookie corner Xavier Rhodes has the same issues coming out of college. He was flagged for 5 penalties all year, 0 after week 10. What's this mean? Players adjust. Dennard will be able to "overcome" his grabbiness, he's not locked into playing this way.

Those hips. I mentioned Dennard is a good athlete, and he is. He has this hitch when he goes to turn and run. It takes him an extra step to get going in order to overcome this issue. He can close when the ball is in the air, but doesn't have that explosive Patrick Peterson type recovery speed, so it's easy to think he'll get beat at the next level because of this.

When Dennard loses it's a combination of him playing flat-footed, & sitting on the route, getting too grabby, & losing position. Or, as I mentioned, when he has to turn and run, he stands straight up because his hips are tight.

Dennard could have arguably had 3-5 more interceptions this year if he had just finished the play. He has good ball skills, but I don't think he has good hands. I've seen him drop some gimme passes.

Grade/Final Thought

Multiple Pro Bowl Player, Top 10 8.5 – 9.0
Highly Productive Starter, 1st Round 8.0 – 8.4
Very Good Starter, Early 2nd Round 7.8 – 7.9
Reliable Starter, 2nd Round 7.5 – 7.7
Potential Starter in Year 2, 3rd Round 7.0 – 7.4
Backup/Spot Starter, 4th Round 6.5 – 6.9
Productive Backup, 5th Round 6.0 – 6.4
Very Good Backup/STs, 6th Round 5.5 – 5.9
Quality Backup/Good STs, 7th Round 5.0 – 5.4
Backup/STs/Project Player, 7th Round 4.5 – 4.9
Priority Free Agent w/ Limitations 4.0 – 4.4
Non-Draftable < 4.0

Skill Weight Grade
Long Speed 2 1.6
Closing Speed/Acceleration 2 1.6
Ball Skills 3 2.8
Eye Discipline 2 2
Strength 2 1.7
Athleticism 2 1.7
Route Recognition/Insticts 3 3
Tackling/Blitz Abilty 2 1.8
Cover Skills 4 3.8
Change of Direction/Feet 3 2.7

Dennard graded out to a solid 8.21, making him a legit top 20 talent. He has the ball skills, ability to mirror, turn & run. All that's needed to play the position. Dennard is a player who is very instinctive and is rarely out of position. My final look at Dennard I was just as impressed as the 1st time. I haven't even mentioned how he's arguable the top run defender in the class. He does get too grabby at times, but that improved as the season went on. He has that little hitch when he goes to turn and run, so it'll be interesting to see how he adapts to that. All in all, I think Dennard will be a very good corner at the next level.

How He Fits as a Charger

It's pretty well known that San Diego is an off coverage type of team. Running it almost 3/5 times last year. Dennard isn't limited to just press, but press is his clear strength. When he's at the line of scrimmage, Dennard can dictate the action, by getting his hands on you. In off man, he can close well coming forward, and understands the little things, like spacing by the opposing receivers. He's too smart of a player for me to think he can't succeed in off coverage. While Dennard wouldn't be my first choice(even though he's my 2nd highest graded corner), I certainly am not opposed to drafting him. San Diego could use a smart player like Dennard, and he would be an upgrade over the current roster situation.

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