On a very good defense in 2013, cornerback Darqueze Dennard was Michigan State's best player.
Dennard made his name with the Spartans as a man coverage cornerback. He was often left on an island on the outside against the opposing team's best receiver. He's not the type of corner who can only play one side. Michigan State moved him around the field wherever the top opposing receiver was lined up.
A three-year starter, Dennard was named an All-American last year and won the Thorpe Award given to the nation's best defensive back.
Ball skills: Although Dennard didn't often get the ball thrown his way as a senior, he still managed to put up good stats. As a senior, Dennard had 10 pass breakups and four interceptions. Dennard has good ball skills because of his instincts. He can locate the ball quickly to close on the play. Dennard doesn't have the longest arms, so he has to consistently time his jumps to make a play. Has a penchant for making the big play. Against Michigan, Dennard had a back-breaking interception against rival Michigan in 2013.
Coverage ability: At Michigan State, Dennard was often put on an island by himself. That forced him into man coverage most of the time. Because of that, Dennard is advanced as a press coverage cornerback. His best move is jamming right at the line of scrimmage and bailing to drop into coverage. Dennard is prone to pushing and grabbing receivers through their routes. While he didn't often get called for penalties in college, he leaves himself open to plenty of them. Though he does seem to know to get grabby and when not to. Has good enough recovery speed if a receiver beats his jam.
In off coverage, Dennard displays a compact backpedal and doesn't take many improper steps. There is some stiffness to his hips when he has to turn and run. Will get beat on come back routes because he can't quickly flip over and reroute to the receiver. Mostly played on the outside, but the Spartans lined Dennard in the slot on occasion.
Instincts/recognition: Whatever misgivings there may be about Dennard's pure athletic ability he can make up for with his instincts. Dennard can read the play in a hurry and break on the ball. He seems to have a good understanding of the route a receiver is running and will rarely get beat on fakes.
Run support: Is a strong, sound tackler for the position. While he doesn't have the strength to often drive through the ball carrier, Dennard can usually drag down the ball carrier when he's coming head on. Takes proper angles to the ball carrier. Gets held up on blocks, which is prevalent both against the run and on screen passes.
Final word: The reigning Thorpe Award winner, Dennard was the best player on a talented Michigan State defense last season. He is a physical man coverage cornerback who rarely gives up big plays.
Dennard has had some injury issues throughout his career at Michigan State. He had a sports hernia in 2012. A shoulder injury kept him out of 2012 spring practices. Missed time in 2011 because of an ankle injury and concussion. Suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2010.
Regardless, even in a talent cornerback class, he's a first-round pick.