With Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman all aging while nearing free agency, the Bengals could ill-afford to not come out of that draft without a corner in the first two rounds. Among the names of interest were TCU’s Jason Verrett, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard.
As it turned out, Dennard was the guy who Cincinnati took with the 24th overall pick, despite many experts projecting Dennard to come off the board before then. Apparently, the Bengals were among the teams who thought Dennard wouldn’t fall that far, so much that they seemed convinced Roby would be their pick, according to Roby himself.
Then again, it could have been Roby’s OVI (operating a Motor Vehicle while under the Influence of alcohol or drugs of abuse) arrest, which helped lead to Cincinnati taking a corner other than Roby, according to The Denver Post:
It’s true. He could be. Before a predraft OVI charge (he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge) Roby was on the verge of playing for the Bengals, with Vance Joseph as his defensive backs coach. Cincinnati had the 24th pick in the draft that year, and when the Bengals hosted Roby on a predraft visit, they told him he was their guy. “Don’t worry about it,” Roby recalls them saying. “We’re going to pick you.”
Through his first three seasons, Roby has been a mixed bag, though mostly nowhere close to being a first-round caliber player.
The irony of this is both Dennard and Roby have struggled in receiving limited playing time while playing behind better corners. In fact, Pro Football Focus ranked Dennard and Roby very close to each other this past season:
The two have also combined to start just 14 games during their first three years in the pros, though Roby played more than double the amount of snaps Dennard played in 2017. While it seems bad the Bengals were close to taking one underperforming corner over another underperforming corner in the same draft, 2014 turned into a one of the worst corner classes in recent memory.
Verrett has been easily the best from the group, but he’s been unable to stay healthy while missing 24 games during his first three seasons. Fuller has been bad and is coming off a lost 2016 due to injury. He’s been so bad the Bears didn’t even pick up his fifth-year option.
Oh, and Gilbert is already out of the league (and has a one-year suspension in 2017), despite being a top-10 pick to the Browns. That’s how bad this class of cornerbacks has been so far.
The good news is Dennard still has plenty of time to turn it around after the Bengals picked up his fifth-year option this offseason, keeping him under contract for two more seasons. He’s shown flashes of being a good corner, as well as someone the Bengals were justified to take over Roby and Verrett.
Let’s hope he continues to prove his worth and then some and turns into a reliable contributor in this defense. Even in his fourth year, Dennard won’t be forced into duty while Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick occupy the starting boundary spots with fellow first round pick William Jackson III waiting in the wings.