The Cincinnati Bengals may go a variety of different ways in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, but Mel Kiper gets it right in his first 2014 NFL mock of the year with Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
As one of the most respected names in the industry and a name who helped make the draft the national sensation it is today, Bengals fans should not be surprised Kiper nailed the Bengals selection. Here is what he said of the pick (subscription required):
Analysis: The Cincinnati secondary was better in performance than I thought it’d be on paper this season, but there are some concerns going forward at a couple of spots, with both age (Adam Jones and Terence Newman are north of 30) and health (Leon Hall ended the season on injured reserve), so the Bengals don’t just need depth, they could use a player capable of starting. Dennard is the most complete corner in the draft in terms of the overall skill profile to work in any kind of coverage, and he brings a great work ethic and competitive temperament to the field. Three words: Ready to play.
Now, fans are going to hear a lot of negative things about Kiper’s first mock. He has Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manizel going No. 1 overall to the Houston Texans despite him being a raw prospect. He has Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater going No. 8 overall to the Minnesota Vikings — despite the widely accepted view that Bridgewater is the best player in the class, not to mention one of the best prospects to come out in years.
But Kiper gets this one right in a big way. Dennard is the top corner in the class and can start right away. He is not Dre Kirkpatrick, who entered the league with questions about his ability to backpedal and play in different looks. Dennard can do it all — right away.
Dennard is a physical corner at 5’11″ and 197 pounds who is similar to Leon Hall in his aggressiveness against the run. In college, offenses made a habit of avoiding him at all costs. Here is some praise from around the web to give Bengals fans an idea of what they would be getting in this scenario:
Stanford coach David Shaw referred to Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard as “the best corner in America.”
— David Lombardi (@DavidMLombardi) December 17, 2013
Darqueze Dennard, Mich. State RT @brad_foster10: which cb in this draft class is the most physical and best in man coverage?
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 5, 2014
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 19, 2013
Darqueze Dennard wins Jim Thorpe Award for top DB. Michigan State opponents went 3-31 on throws of 15+ yards to receivers covered by him
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 13, 2013
With Hall hurt again, Terence Newman and Adam Jones getting up there in age and Kirkpatrick suffering in what was essentially his rookie year in 2013, another corner makes all too much sense.
There are those who suggest defensive end should be the pick, especially with Michael Johnson surely on the way out. But another selection wasted on the position seems unlikely with Margus Hunt brought on last year and Wallace Gilberry playing well.
Others suggest the linebacker position, but it is not a severe need. This is especially the case with Emmanuel Lamur on his way back from injury. He’ll join a stable unit that already features James Harrison, Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict, not to mention what should be a returning Vincent Rey given his restricted free agent status.
The one position that may edge out corner in the first round is offensive tackle, with backup swing tackle Anthony Collins surely on the way out. Offensive line is simply too important with a player like Andy Dalton under center for at least one more season, and should Andrew Whitworth be forced inside to guard once more, the team is going to need talent to start on the outside right away.
But we’re early in the mock game. As of now, corner makes the most sense, and Kiper nails it by giving the Bengals the best at the position. A future of Kirkpatrick and Dennard as starters after years of guidance from Hall, Newman and others seems like a solid way to reinforce the unit.