Alfonzo Dennard returned to practice for the Patriots on Thursday. He was absent from Wednesday’s session as a result of a mandatory court appearance in Nebraska related to charges of third-degree felony assault on a police officer.
That is never a good spot for anyone to be in, however, in a strange and twisted way, Dennard’s run-in with the law last April has had a butterfly effect of sorts on his young career and the success of the New England Patriots.
Before the 2012 NFL Draft, Dennard had been projected as anywhere from a 2nd to 4th round pick after a standout college career at Nebraska. His stock dropped slightly after struggling to cover former South Carolina Gamecock and current Chicago Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day of 2012. That matchup culminated with a scuffle that led to both of them being ejected from the contest.
After a decent combine showing, Dennard appeared to back in the good graces of NFL scouts. That was until the night of April 21, 2012, when he was involved in a fight outside of a bar in Lincoln, Nebraska. When police officers arrived to keep the peace, reports say Dennard took a swing and connected with one of the officers.
In a split second, Dennard’s draft stock hit rock bottom.
Following the incident, many draft gurus said Dennard may in fact go undrafted, largely due to the uncertainty surrounding the charges and the possible punishment that could still be handed down by the courts. He was poison ivy, and NFL teams were going to avoid the kid at all costs.
When it came time for New England to draft in the 7th round, Dennard was still on the board. As he has been known to do, Bill Belichick took a chance on a high-risk, high-reward situation.
I think it is safe to say the risk has paid off.
Including being inserted to the lineup as a full-time starter in the second half of the season, Dennard has been an integral part of the Patriots’ run to the AFC Championship game as well as a key piece of the defensive turnaround in Foxboro. He recorded 34 tackles, seven passes defended and three interceptions during his rookie season. That includes a stellar performance in the second half of the December 10 matchup with the Texans, where he was tasked with defending Andre Johnson after Aqib Talib left the game with an injury. Together with Talib, Dennard held one of the premier receivers in the NFL to under 100 yards and no touchdowns.
As Sunday’s contest approaches, one can’t help but to wonder what path Dennard’s young career would have taken had he not had that now infamous run-in with the law last April. He may have gone early in the second round to another team, perhaps helping another franchise to the brink of football’s biggest game. He could have gone somewhere and disappeared on someone else’s depth chart. But he didn’t. He ended up with the Patriots, arguably the perfect destination for someone in his situation. In any event, the Patriots and their fans should count their lucky stars that a cornerback with Dennard’s ability fell into their laps, regardless of how it happened.
If and when Dennard can put his legal troubles behind him, it looks as if he has a bright and successful future in a New England Patriot uniform.