Spartan Darqueze Dennard won the Jim Thorpe Award as the game's top defensive back. He was also named a first-team All American. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — My visit to Michigan State wasn’t to wish the Spartans good luck as they prepare to face Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
I came here for Lions business. It is time to officially begin the Draft Darqueze Dennard campaign for our local NFL team. He is the right man for the Lions in 2014 NFL draft.
He is a big corner. He is strong. He can cover and Dennard plays with a nasty streak the Lions could use in the defensive backfield. College football got it right when Dennard won the Jim Thorpe Award as the game’s top defensive back. He was also named a first-team All American.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay projects Dennard as a late first-round draft pick and predicts he will go 26th to the New England Patriots.
Here is what he wrote: “Dennard is a tough, experienced playmaker with above-average size and great instincts when the ball is in the air. He plays smart.”
The Lions have drafted as many cornerbacks in recent years as they did wide receivers during the Millen era. And the defensive backfield remains a mess.
“That would be pretty cool,” Dennard said. “I just started watching them when I got up here, and they’ve got a good team.”
The Lions (7-7) are not good enough. That’s the point. They can be a good team, but the Lions need help. They are on the outside looking in in the hunt for the NFC North title following a devastating 18-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens Monday night. Chicago (8-6) and Green Bay (7-6-1) can eliminate the Lions if they both win Sunday.
Believe it or not, the Lions might select another wide receiver in the first round to remedy things. That will help them score more points and get help for Calvin Johnson. However, opponents will still be able to pass at will against them.
The Lions rank 23rd in the NFL in passing defense (252.9 yards per game) and seem to get big plays whenever they want. Does anybody remember the third-and-15 play the Baltimore Ravens converted that set up the winning 61-yard field goal?
“I would be happy to play no matter what team it is,” Dennard said. “I would just be blessed to have an opportunity to go for the NFL. It would be a great honor.”
Dennard said all the right things. If the Lions want him to play safety, that is fine. If they want him to play nickel, he would give it his all. This guy is a starting corner in this league.
Dennard is a humble kid and does not feel comfortable talking about himself. Teammate and safety Isaiah Lewis has no problems talking about him. Dennard said he felt his game turned around following a victory over Georgia. Lewis said he saw a change when former NFL receivers came to State to work out.
“He’d be locking them down,” Lewis said. “He’d be running with them. It was crazy. Trust me, he is ready for the NFL.”
Lewis also said Dennard is a study freak, which is another asset. The NFL is a tough league with great pass catchers. It is also a league that has left defensive players on an island. It is more difficult to be physical, and Dennard is a physical player.
If he is going to be called for pass interference all the time and targeting, it makes no sense to draft him.
“I would see what I can get away and can’t get away with,” Dennard said. “I would interact with referees and ask them questions and see what kind of game I can play. I can switch it up and not be as physical. I can play whatever and can play within the rules.”
Going out strong
Dennard said he doesn’t think about the NFL or awards. He wants to end his career with a Rose Bowl victory over the Cardinal. Both teams promise to be physical so he knows he will have to sneak in at times to stop the run. But Stanford can also pop big plays.
“It’s a great honor, but without my teammates I wouldn’t have won those awards,” Dennard said. “I know I won (them) but at the same time it has not sunk in yet. All I can think about is this bowl game. Let’s celebrate the win, and then I can think about these awards.”
Lewis simply wants to play with Dennard one more time.
“I got his back,” Lewis said. “If things go wrong, he’s got me to back him up. Most of the time we are on point. It’s solid back there. When teams start balling over there most of the time it is an incomplete pass.”