As Darqueze Dennard slipped down the draft board while watching the NFL Draft with his friends and family in his hometown, he could sense the anxiety. Before the Cincinnati Bengals called, Dennard jumped and did a dance to lighten the mood.
Minutes later the whole party danced along with him when the Bengals called to inform him he would be the No. 24 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
“There was a sigh of relief in the room, really,” Dennard said. “I wasn’t really worried. My family was a little worried because they paid attention to all the mock drafts and things like that. I didn’t pay too much attention to that.”
The Bengals did, hence the surprise when he still sat on the board almost three hours into the first round.
Talk circled the room about trading up, but when the Browns traded with Philadelphia for Johnny Manziel, it all but assured Cincinnati would land their guy.
It was just enough to let one of the late premier players on their list slip to them. Head coach Marvin Lewis happily accepted the assist from his divisional neighbor.
“The quarterback going was helpful to us,” Lewis said. “There were a couple of teams as you saw that wanted to slide back a little bit. I think we valued keeping the picks we have and it kind of worked out for us.”
Coaches stressed Dennard’s character as a captain and leader at Michigan State. His technique and decision-making brought out reminders of a player everyone in the defensive room was familiar with.
“When we worked him out, (co-defensive backs coach) Vance (Joseph) and I said, ‘That’s Leon Hall,’” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He’s technique-sound; he does what he’s asked to do,” All the coaches at Michigan State rave about the guy. He always takes the extra step to do things the right way. That’s the kind of guy we want around here.”
During his senior year, Dennard won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in the country and was a finalist of the top defensive player in the nation. He had 118 passes targeted at him, allowing just 18 of those to be completed.
Dennard totaled 167 tackles and 30 passes defended (10 interceptions, 20 pass break-ups) in 44 career games, including 40 starts, 29 consecutive to close out career.
He will begin a youth movement at cornerback where their top three corners will all cross the 30-year-old threshold by the end of next season. Terence Newman is 35, Adam Jones 30 and Hall 29 coming off his second Achilles injury in three years.
This marks the fourth time Lewis selected a cornerback in the first round. He also took Johnathan Joseph (2006), Leon Hall (2007) and Dre Kirkpatrick (2012) there.
The Bengals also believe Dennard can play in the slot as a nickel corner. That will be particularly helpful since current fourth corner Kirkpatrick wasn’t as well suited to play inside.
Lewis doesn’t expect Dennard to come in and start, but knows he couldn’t ask for a more veteran room to help mold his maturity.
“I’ve had exposure to him a couple times in person, and you’re impressed with him and how he carries himself and handles himself,” he said. “Now he’s got to step in here, and he’s coming into a room that’s a very talented room. He’s got to go in there and he’s got to compete for playing time. All he does is make our football team better. We’ve got some guys who have played great football and they’re not willing to give up their spots. He’s going to have to come in here and work his tail off, and I think he can do that. I also think he can contribute on special teams. He’s a guy that really has a chance to enhance what we do on Sundays.”