Darqueze Dennard has had a mysterious NFL career so far. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Dennard in the first round in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he hasn’t been on the field as much as you’d hope from a first round pick entering his fourth NFL season.
Despite this, the Bengals decided to pick up the very expensive fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Dennard isn’t going to be handed a starting role by any means, but his spot on this roster is certain after the team picked up his option.
College: Michigan State
Hometown: Dry Branch, GA
Experience: Fourth-year player
Dennard is heading into the fourth season of a five-year deal, after the Bengals picked up his fifth-year option this offseason. Dennard will make $1.5 million in 2017 with a $2.5 million hit against the cap. That discount ends next season when Dennard’s fifth-year option gives him $8.5 million in 2018. Dennard is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, according to Sportrac.
In 2018, Dennard will be tied for the 12th highest paid corner in the NFL with other first round corners from 2014, Jason Verrett and Bradley Roby. He will be paid more than corners like Desmond Trufant, Stephon Gilmore and Chris Harris. He will also be the highest paid corner on the Bengals’ roster, ahead of both Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones who will make $4.75 million and $5.3 million respectively in 2018. Though, Jones’ 2018 contract is an option for the Bengals.
Dennard played four seasons at Michigan State and became one of the top corners in the nation before making his way to the Bengals. His senior season was easily his best. He had a career high four interceptions, and also defended 10 passes. He was a Consensus All-American and won the Jim Thorpe Award, given to college football’s best defensive back.
It was quite the surprise to have Dennard fall all the way to the Bengals and the No. 24 pick, but the run on corners that was expected to occur early in the draft never happened.
Dennard’s first two seasons were full of injuries, and the team still had Leon Hall who was very productive in the slot. Since then, he hasn’t seen the field very consistently—with injuries still getting in the way—but he has shown a few flashes of the player he was expected to be.
One observation analysts have made is Dennard is better suited to play on the outside, but with Kirkpatrick and Jones on the roster, Dennard has been forced to play the slot if he wants to see the field at all. The Bengals added fellow first round pick, William Jackson III last year, and he too is going to challenge for playing time on the boundary. Dennard is just better suited to get up in a receiver’s face on the outside, where they can only really go inside or straight up field. It’s part of why Josh Shaw ended up taking the majority of the time in the slot last year, leaving Dennard on the bench. A third year of suffering through a training camp/preseason injury also set Dennard back in 2016, paving way for Shaw to take his anticipated spot in the slot. In 2017, it’s up to Dennard to figure out a way to get onto the field, whether it’s in the boundary or slot.
Dennard is clearly in the Bengals’ plans for the future as they picked up his fifth year option. Jones will be turning 34 late in September, and his time with the Bengals could be coming to an end. The Bengals chose to re-sign Kirkpatrick this offseason and Jackson is coming into training camp healthy.
Dennard could conceivably be competing with Jackson for the No. 1 outside cornerback backup spot. And, if Jones receives a suspension from the NFL for his offseason arrest, that person could step into a starting job for some duration of time. The Bengals may also be content with keeping Dennard in the slot and moving Shaw to safety instead of having him as the slot corner. Though, Shaw may be the best option for the Bengals inside. Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther seems to still be high on Dennard as the former first round pick enters his fourth year in the NFL.
“Every time he had an opportunity, something happened,” Guenther said of Dennard. “I still think he’ll be a good player in this league. I still think he can play and he can be a starting corner. I don’t feel any different about him than I did last year at this time.”
Don’t expect Dennard to be leaving the Queen City this offseason. At the very least, he will be riding the bench, but at best, he could be starting opposite Kirkpatrick.
Roster odds: 99.99%