It was only a matter of time until the Bengals heavily addressed the cornerback position. The group has performed solidly for one mostly comprised of free agent castoffs, as grizzled veterans gave everyone reminders of why they were once first round selections in the draft. Now, there is a new young gun looking to round out the group in 2014 and take control of the reigns in the years ahead.
While there is still hope for third-year man and fellow former first round selection, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard has turned heads at the early part of camp. Two weeks ago at the team's OTAs, it was reported that Dennard looked fantastic. And, as if that wasn't enough, veteran and captain of the cornerback group, Leon Hall, gushed over the rookie as well.
Knowing Marvin Lewis' spotty record with trusting rookies with big roles right away, Dennard might be anywhere from No.3 to No.5 in the group. But, he already appears to be way ahead of Kirkpatrick's NFL development and sounds like he's looking good in the slot and on the outside. He looks to have a bright future ahead of him, this year and in the future.
Why He Makes This List As A Rookie:
As I mentioned above, Dennard might have to wait a bit before he gets significant playing time. However, if the coaches find that they trust him more than Kirkpatrick, then he will leapfrog him on the depth chart. Though Hall's rehab seems to be going exceptionally well again, any backslides there could push Dennard into more action.
Then there are the interesting cases of Terence Newman and Adam Jones. Indications are that Newman's role on the outside won't be changing, but if the coaches like what they see out of Dennard, they could bump Jones down on the depth chart and make him more of a return specialist than have a heavy reliance on him as a corner. If that occurs, Dennard would see a good chunk of playing time.
Dennard also makes the list because of his work ethic. He very well could have sat out workouts until his contract situation was settled, but he opted to come out and practice, learn the playbook and be with his teammates. That bodes well for a young guy trying to make a name for himself in the pros.
What To Expect In 2014 From Dennard:
A Pro Bowl-type of season isn't realistic for Dennard, but it also isn't out of the realm of possibility, either. If he is given ample playing time and shows the fast development that he has displayed in the early parts of camp when it really counts, Cincinnati could have a shutdown corner on their hands. I still don't think that he gets higher than No.3 on the depth chart at the position--at least not initially.
I think you'll see some good work from Dennard as a rotating player in the secondary, which must be a sight for sore eyes from the corners in their thirties. Maybe a few turnovers here and there and some special teams work, basically showcasing his future value with the club.
So that is the definition we are using with "breakout" in relation to Dennard. Solid rookie contributor who builds high hopes for 2015 and beyond. With a stacked roster, it's a safe bet that most fans would be happy with a season like that from the No.24 overall pick in this year's draft.