Each Wednesday of the college football season NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang will identify his Prospect of the Week. To qualify, the player must have played a significant role in their team's performance against a quality opponent, demonstrating not only effectiveness as the collegiate level but the rare traits to demand the attention of pro scouts, as well.
Top Prospect of Week 10: Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
The NFL is the ultimate copycat league and with the success of the Seattle Seahawks' Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, scouts are searching for big, physical cornerbacks with the aggression to fight through blocks to make plays at the line of scrimmage as well as the ball-skills to make quarterbacks pay for challenging them deep.
At 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, Dennard may lack Sherman and Browner's size but, as he demonstrated in Michigan State's 29-6 demolition of rival Michigan November 2, he certainly boasts the grit and mitts to fit right in with Seattle's so-called Legion of Boom deep patrol.
Boasting a front seven as physical and sound as any in college football, Michigan State entered their showdown with the Wolverines leading the country in total defense, allowing just over 210 yards per game. Louisville, the team ranked second, is allowing 244.5 yards per contest, by comparison.
Critics questioned whether Michigan State's success was more a reflection of their level of competition to this point. Facing out of conference foes like Western Michigan, South Florida and Youngstown State hardly qualifies as elite challenges and the Spartans won't face Penn State, Wisconsin or Ohio State during the regular season.
As such, the showdown with Michigan and their gifted offense may have been the biggest test of the regular season for Dennard and the Spartans, making the matchup a must-see even for talent evaluators.
While Dennard didn't line up opposite Wolverines' star wideout Jeremy Gallon as frequently as scouts may have hoped, the Thorpe Award semi-finalist certainly demonstrated his playmaking ability in this contest, including forcing a fumble of the Michigan wideout on one of the few plays in which they competed.
The Wolverines struggled to move the ball with any kind of consistency all game long. Gallon, who entered the game fresh off of setting a school and conference record with 369 receiving yards against Indiana, caught five passes but only once when facing Dennard. And, on that play, with the Wolverines down 16-6 in the closing minutes of the third quarter, Dennard made him pay.
The pass was a risky one as Michigan State's captain was lined up in bump and run coverage. He hit Gallon just as the ball arrived and frankly, the Michigan wideout did a nice job just catching the pass. While Gallon was able to corral the pass initially, Dennard snaked his long arms around the receiver's waist for the easy tackle, forcing a fumble in the process. Though Michigan recovered the ball, the precedence had been set. The Wolverines were unable to convert the upcoming third down and were forced to punt. Gallon didn't catch another pass the rest of the game.
As if to prove a point, the next pass Gardner threw in Dennard's direction, he intercepted.
Down 22-6 with 6:23 remaining in the game, Gardner and the Wolverines were desperate to score a touchdown. They'd only crossed the Michigan State 20-yard line once to this point and that is precisely where they found themselves when Gardner decided to challenge Dennard, who was again latched onto Gallon in press coverage.
Cutting off the inside, Dennard forced the 5-foot-8, 194-pound Gallon towards the left sideline. Gardner, expecting his receiver to be inside, drilled the ball up the sideline only to find Dennard turning towards him to make an easy interception that essentially sealed the game for the Spartans.
Dennard finished the game with five tackles, as well as the interception and forced fumble. It was his ability to shut down Gallon -- the most gifted receiver he's faced thus far in 2013 - that has his stock on the rise.
Prospect of the Week Archives:
Week 1: Alabama WR/RS Christion Jones
Week 2: Miami LB Denzel Perryman
Week 3: Washington RB Bishop Sankey
Week 4: Fresno State QB Derek Carr
Week 5: Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews
Week 6: TCU CB Jason Verrett
Week 7: Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
Week 8: Florida State OLB Telvin Smith
Week 9: Stanford DE/OLB Trent Murphy