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— Last spring, Darqueze Dennard became the first Michigan State defensive back taken in the first round of the NFL draft since Herb Adderley in 1961.

It appears the Spartans won't have to wait another 50-plus years for it to happen again.

Cornerback Trae Waynes is almost certain to go in the first round Thursday, with many analysts projecting him as high as No. 11 to the Vikings.

"That would make me very proud," Dennard told the Big Ten Network last weekend at the Michigan State spring game. "Just to see him come along. I was here when he first came in as a freshman ... All the stuff he has accomplished this past year and the opportunity to follow me and be drafted in the first round is humbling."

Not only would it be the first time Michigan State has had first-round picks in back-to-back years since 2003 — Charles Rogers went No. 1 to the Lions after T.J. Duckett was taken first by the Falcons in 2002 — it would be the first time the Spartans have had defensive backs taken in successive first rounds.

"I think it speaks volumes about where we've come as a football program," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "But you don't win the games that we've won over these last five years without great players."

The Spartans have won 53 games and a Big Ten championship the last five years, and finished the last two seasons ranked in the top five. Much of that success has been because Michigan State has had some of the best defenses in the nation, and that can be directly attributed to the style of play from the cornerbacks.

Dennard, now with the Bengals, was the first to become a star, and he bestowed his wisdom on Waynes. Both were unheralded recruits — two-stars with few major offers — who excelled at fundamentals of playing in the secondary.

"Waynes is a clean slate and has the work ethic that you look for," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "He's well-coached. I think he takes well to coaching, you can tell. He does a lot of the little things well, very efficient with his movement."

It all led to Waynes starting 27 games the last two years and earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2014, as well as second-team All-American honors.

The praise for Waynes, who gave up his final year to enter the draft, has been consistent. There also, however, have been detractors.

Pro Football Focus called him one of the draft's most overrated players, saying his 40-yard dash time of 4.31 seconds at the combine was overshadowed by his slower time (4.39 seconds) in the shuttle.

But at Michigan State's pro day, he posted a time of 4.19 seconds and heard some clocked it as low as 4.01.

"I guess a lot of people was doubting my shuttle or wanted to see what I really could do," Waynes said.

None of it, however, has hurt his stock.

"I don't think he's rising, I think he's been there," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said. "I think he and Kevin Johnson from Wake Forest are the two cleanest corners ... I think Waynes' highest and best use is as a press corner. He's long. He's got great speed. He's a little bit stiff, but most of those long guys are."

Added McShay: "I think there's a little bit more tightness there than you'd like to see at times. But I think he's absolutely fast enough, has the length, has the ability to be a good starting cornerback."

Waynes likely will be the only Spartans player to go in the first round, but as many as eight Michigan State players could be drafted, but it's more likely the Spartans match the six they had selected in 2012.

Running back Jeremy Langford has been projected as high as the third round. Wide receiver Tony Lippett, safety Kurtis Drummond and linebacker Taiwan Jones could all fall in the middle of the draft, while wide receiver Keith Mumphery, punter Mike Sadler and defensive end/outside linebacker Marcus Rush could hear their names by the end of the draft.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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