Nov. 22, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (11) is tackled by New England Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (37) during the second half on Thanksgiving at Metlife Stadium. Patriots won 49-19. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick's 2012 Draft Steal: Alfonzo Dennard

With the 224th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the New England Patriots are presented second round talent for seventh round fees. Bill Belichick decided to give Alfonzo Dennard a chance. The Nebraska cornerback had a successful rookie campaign for the Patriots. He started off with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for four weeks. After that, Dennard made big strides for the Pats secondary, who were desperately searching for solutions at cornerback. He has great closing speed, can be physical at the line, and has a knack for getting a hand on the ball. He had two interceptions in his first two starts, and picked off one more pass a few weeks later. He also forced a fumble against the New York Jets.

In the last three seasons, the Patriots have seen many changes at defensive back. Three years ago, New England had Brandon Meriweather and Patrick Chung at safety, with Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington starting on the outside at CB. As of today, the Pats will likely be starting Adrian Wilson and McCourty at Safety, with Aqib Talib and Dennard playing corner. Meriweather and Chung are long gone. Arrington, who struggled mightily on the outside, is a new-found commodity covering the slot. Dennard and Talib both have good coverage skills and a strong chemistry on the field. For the first time in years, the Patriots secondary looks poised for a strong season.

Dennard was rated highly in the draft by scouts and NFL teams; however, he had some issues keeping him from being taken early in the draft. A fight on the field, an overall weak display at the Senior Bowl, and punching a police officer put up red flags for NFL executives. His arrest came just before the draft, which didn’t give merit to his decision making. His arrest also presented a huge unknown: Would he miss time in the season? When Dennard fell to the seventh round, the potential reward far outweighed the risk of drafting a talented player with character concerns. If things didn’t work out with Dennard, releasing him would do no harm.

The criminal charges against Alfonzo Dennard resolved with 30 days in jail and two years probation. The jail time will be served in March following the upcoming season, and he won’t miss any offseason preparations. Knowing the sentencing should help Dennard focus on football and make progress in his second season. As long as Dennard can stay clean and avoid violating his probation, his main concerns will not affect his football career. I hope that all of the insanity surrounding Aaron Hernandez puts everything in perspective for Dennard. The two situations are nothing alike, but he needs to hold himself to high standards and make smart decisions. Dennard has the chance to be a long-term starter in the NFL.

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Tags: Alfonzo Dennard Bill Belichick Cornerback New England Patriots NFL Offseason

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