(AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles, File)

The first cornerback taken in the first round of Thursday night’s NFL draft was by the Cleveland Browns, who selected Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert with the eighth pick. Cornerback Kyle Fuller from Virgina Tech was then selected 14th by Chicago. But the Cincinnati Bengals pulled off the steal of the first round, taking Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State with the 24th pick.

“I thought he would probably be going in the middle of the draft, and he happened to fall to 24 to us,” Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “It was a no-brainer at that point for us.”

Dennard, the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award winner as college football’s top defensive back, intercepted four passes last season and earned all-American honors.

“This is the type of corner Marvin Lewis loves,” ESPN analyst and former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis said. “This kid loves a physical football game. And that’s why, when Marvin Lewis saw him still on the board, he had to take him.”

One of Dennard’s strengths is that he plays up tight against receivers and uses his size and strength to prevent a quick jump off the line of scrimmage.

Here is an example against Notre Dame.

Source: Draft Analysis
Source: Draft Analysis

Here he is again during the same game, but on the opposite side of the field. The Fighting Irish receiver never has a chance at catching the ball inbounds.

Source: Draft Analysis
Source: Draft Analysis

According to STATS X-Info, Denard was “burned” for yardage less frequently (35.1 percent) than Gilbert (44.9 percent) despite being targeted less frequently.

Player

Targets

Burns

TDs Allowed

Yards Per Burn

Interceptions

Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State

77

27 (35.1%)

2

14.0

4

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

69

31 (44.9%)

3

12.6

7

“All he does is make our football team better,” Lewis said. “He’s a guy that really has a chance to enhance what we do on Sundays.”