Over the past couple of years the one common thread to the Patriots struggles on the defensive side of the ball has been cornerbacks. The Pats have just not been able to draft and develop solid cornerbacks. They have had countless draft busts at that position with Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite leading the pack in my opinion. I believe that if the Pats had been able to draft some decent cornerbacks, then they would have won a couple of Super Bowls over these past few years. However, I think that in last years draft they may have just hit the jackpot in the 7th round with their selection of Alfonzo Dennard.
I believe that Dennard is the real deal, and I am beginning to think that getting him in the 7th round could turn out to be one of the best steals of the draft in the last couple of years. The main reason why he dropped to the 7th round was that he had some off-the-field issues while he was at Nebraska, but in his rookie year with the Patriots he seemed to be perfectly fine off the field. On the field I think he is the best cover corner the Patriots have. Even if Aqib Talib is resigned, I still believe that Dennard has better cover skills than Talib.
Dennard first really caught my eye in the Seattle game on Oct. 14th. After that I continued to be extremely impressed with how well he could cover opposing teams top wide receivers. I really thought that his best overall performance came in week 14 against the Houston Texans. He had an exceptional game against all of their weapons. Although he did not record an interception or a pass defended, I think he really played great man press coverage, and it really disrupted the Texans offense. He went up against Andre Johnson numerous times in that game and he more than held his own, despite giving up around 4 inches and 30 pounds to Johnson.
Dennard is a pretty short guy as he only stands 5’9. This definitely works against him when going up against bigger guys, but it is also because of his height that I think he can be a great cornerback in the NFL. You would think that receivers could have their way with a shorter Dennard, but he is so aggressive and technically sound, that it makes it very hard for receivers to have a big day against him. Dennard is physical at the line of scrimmage as well, which really can disrupt an offense. Dennard has a knack for being able to do this and it gets under the skin of some of the players. I think that is something the Patriots need in their secondary.
One other thing Dennard has that most other cornerbacks the Patriots have drafted haven’t had is ball skills. It was incredibly frustrating to see the Pats defensive backs not turn their head to the ball, and not make a play. There were numerous times in the season where one of the Pats corners would do this, and then Dennard would “show them” and make a great play on the ball. I think ball skills are perhaps the most important skill a cornerback can have, you can be a superb cover guy, but if you don’t have good ball skills the receiver can continually make plays over you. Dennard has these ball skills and he showed it when in a span of four games he picked off three passes. I think that he has the best ball skills on the Patriots outside of Aqib Talib.
Considering all of these things, I believe that Dennard can be a great cornerback in the NFL in just a few years. By no means am I saying that he can be as good as a Darrelle Revis, but he can be up there. There are not many “elite” cornerbacks in the NFL today, and I think that Dennard can begin to start a youth movement into that “elite” status of players. He has all of the tools needed to be one of the best, and seeing his improvement over his rookie season, I can only see great things for him in his career in the NFL.