Scouting Combine Research: DB, Part 2

Part 2 of our defensive backs preview leads off with Michigan State standout Darqueze Dennard. Another talented cornerback is small-school star Pierre Desir.

CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (5-11, 197): Dennard spearheaded Michigan State's attacking defense and helped lead it to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory. During his senior season, Dennard was the recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top cornerback and was a unanimous first-team All-American. He had four interceptions and knocked away 10 passes. Despite developing into the best cornerback in the country, Dennard was not heavily recruited. In fact, until Michigan State came along Dennard did not receive a scholarship offer. In November Dennard told mlive.com, "I played with a chip on my shoulder to showcase my talent. My coaches kept telling me there were scouts, I just went out and played the game that needed to be played." Dennard's nickname at Michigan State was "Country" due to the small town he is from in Georgia.

CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood (6-2, 206): During his junior season, Desir became the first player from Lindenwood to earn AFCA All-American honors. Desir was born in Haiti, and his family moved to the United States when he was 4. After he graduated from high school, Desir chose to play at Washburn University, a Division II school. Despite playing the game he loves at the next level, things did not get easier for Desir. His wife and two daughters were living with him, and he was struggling to make ends meet. Desir decided to transfer to Lindenwood, an NAIA-level program, to be closer to home. He was not granted his release from Washburn, so he had to sit out the 2011 season, but returned in 2012, and earned AFCA All-American honors in each of his final two seasons. As a senior, he won the Cliff Harris Award, which goes to the nation's best small-school defender. In his four seasons, he picked off 25 passes. "It wasn't until last summer that everything started to come into play," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I was getting contacted by agents and financial advisers, and all these people were telling me, ‘We think highly of you. We think you're going to be drafted.' That's when it really started, that people were talking about me."

S Ahmad Dixon, Baylor (6-0, 205): Dixon enters the draft after having a decorated senior season, with first-team all-Big 12 and first-team All-American accolades. He finished second on the team with 81 tackles, one interception, six passes defensed, one forced fumble and one blocked kick. Dixon is a heavy hitter, most famous for a punishing blow he delivered to fellow draft prospect, Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro. Dixon was arrested for assault in September, but was cleared of all charges after Texas police forces found no wrongdoing.

CB Brandon Dixon, Northwest Missouri State (6-0, 204): Dixon was a first-team Division II All-American as a senior, with one interception, 12 passes defensed and a blocked kick to help the Bearcats win the national championship. He earned second-team honors as a junior, when he intercepted five passes and broke up five others. Before he came to Northwest Missouri State, Dixon was at Joliet Junior College. He transferred after intercepting eight passes and breaking up 31 others during his sophomore season. He transferred to NMSU to play with his brother, Brian. "It's kind of a blessing," Dixon told the News Press. "Having him here with me, I feel more comfortable around here, he's my second me." Both Dixon brothers received offers to play Division I football, but grade issues forced them to continue their careers elsewhere.

S Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky (6-3, 198): Early entrant. Dowling is a playmaking safety that excels at punching the ball out. Dowling forced six fumbles in his junior season in addition to his three interceptions. Dowling's best game came when he snared two interceptions in a big win against Navy. Dowling's moment that thrust him into the national spotlight came just before Western Kentucky's game against the heavily favored Tennessee. He told the USA Today: "We don't look at it as being underdogs, we ain't the underdogs." Dowling's team would not win, but his confidence was a sign of things to come for the rest of the season. Dowling emerged as the leader and top playmaker in the WKU secondary.

CB Antone Exum, Virginia Tech (6-1, 220): Exum was a promising cornerback prospect following his 2012 season. His performance helped him earn second-team all-ACC honors. He finished the year with a team-high five interceptions and 16 pass break-ups. Unfortunately, Exum suffered a torn ACL and a partial tear to his lateral meniscus in January 2013. The injury forced him to miss the first seven games for Virginia Tech in 2013. He would return for three games before suffering an ankle injury that would keep him out for the team's final three games. Exum finished his career having earned one degree in finance and is finishing up a second degree in marketing.

CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (6-0, 194): Fuller is a second-team All-American and first team all-ACC member. Fuller became a three-time member of the all-ACC team, earning a spot in 2011, 2012 and 2013, with two interceptions in each of those seasons. Fuller became one of the Hokies' four permanent captains in 2013. Fuller's best game of the season came against Alabama, when he picked off a pass and defended two others. However, he missed the final six games and the Senior Bowl after sports hernia surgery. He plans to test for scouts at the Combine. At the time of the injury, he led the nation in passes defensed with 12. Fuller is part of a family pipeline to Virginia Tech. Older brother Vincent intercepted six passes during a seven-year NFL career. Another older brother, Corey, was a sixth-round pick by Detroit last year. A younger brother, Kyle, was a freshman cornerback in 2013.

CB E.J. Gaines, Missouri (5-11, 195): Gaines enters the draft looking to build off momentum that he built during his senior season. He finished the year with five interceptions, including one big one in Missouri's bowl win over Oklahoma State. Before Missouri made its move to the SEC in 2012, Gaines was a first-team all-Big 12 cornerback after knocking away a schoo- record 18 passes. Following his junior year, Gaines was faced with a decision of whether or not to go pro. He decided to stay for his senior season in large part due to his mother. Gaines told NFL.com, "It sounded good, making some money. My mom really pushed me to get my degree, and I felt like that was probably the best choice for me. The NFL isn't promised."

Phillip Gaines, Rice (6-1, 185): Gaines is a two-time all-C-USA member, earning those honors each of the last two seasons. He was a first-team selection as a senior with four interceptions. According to the school, he allowed 13 catches out of 40 targeted passes this past season. Gaines missed most of his sophomore season, but returned in 2012 to become an effective player for the Owls. Gaines' defining moment of his career came during his junior season. Gaines is described as a soft-spoken, but following an early loss to Memphis, Gaines spoke up. "Phillip Gaines drew a line in the sand after the Memphis loss," said Rice coach David Baliff. Gaines' legendary line in the sand sparked a run that saw Rice finish win six of their final seven games, and earn a bowl berth.

CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (6-0, 200): Gilbert enters the draft coming off a big senior season. He finished the year with seven interceptions. He had two of them in a game against Texas and returned one of them 43 yards for a touchdown as the Cowboys blew out the Longhorns. With a supreme high, like the one Gilbert experienced against Texas, there was also a major low. He had a controversial drop of an interception in a game Oklahoma State lost to arch-rival Oklahoma. Gilbert said following the game, "I was hoping (quarterback Blake) Bell would try my way again, but after the game he told me I scared him."

CB Demetri Goodson, Baylor (6-0, 200): Goodson began his career at the University of Gonzaga before transferring to Baylor. He missed the majority of the 2011 and 2012 seasons with various injuries. He was granted an extra year of eligibility, and made the most of his opportunity. He intercepted three passes and batted down 11 others. Before he came to Baylor, Goodson was the point guard of the Gonzaga basketball team. When Baylor played Central Florida for the Fiesta Bowl, Goodson joined Donovan McNabb as a rare player who played in both a BCS bowl and the NCAA Tournament.

CB Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (6-0, 186): A second-team all-SEC honoree, Hal hada decorated career at cornerback. Hal, a former teammate of Packers cornerback Casey Hayward, whom he looked to for leadership in his younger days, picked off three passes and defended 14 others. Vanderbilt has done a good job producing cornerbacks in recent memory, and Hal just wants to be next in line. Hal says Hayward told him, "He said it's a business, you've got to take care of your body. You have to stretch every day, stay healthy, because you can get booted at any time."

CB Victor Hampton, South Carolina (5-10, 202): Early entrant. Hampton is a physical corner who was considered the best cover man on Steve Spurrier's defense. Hampton has come a long way from his early days. Hampton was kicked off three high school football teams and nearly kicked off South Carolina's team on more than one occasion. Hampton had to make a decision to change or risk losing a chance at playing the game he loves. Hampton told South Carolina's Web site in December, "There were a couple times I was almost out of here, so I had to learn." He has learned, and now spends a lot of time helping kids, by speaking at local schools. "The people that work here see how good I am with the kids, they know I'm not fake with it."

S Marqueston Huff, Wyoming (6-0, 195): Huff spent his first three seasons at Wyoming as a cornerback but shifted to free safety during his senior season mostly due to his versatility. Even while adjusting to a new position, Huff intercepted two passes. In his final game against Utah State, he recorded his sixth double-digit tackles game with 20 stops. In 2012, Huff finished with 1.5 sacks, and recovered one fumble. Upon his move to safety in 2013, Huff compared his style to Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro Eric Berry.

CB Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame (6-0, 195): In 2012, he became a full-time starter on a defense that paved led the team to a BCS National Championship appearance. Jackson was a big reason why with his four interceptions, becoming the first member of the Irish defense to achieve that feat since Mike Richardson picked off four passes in 2006. He played through a torn labrum for most of that season, and had surgery that sidelined him for spring practice heading into his senior season. In the 2013 opener, he was abused by Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon early in the year. He responded a week later with his first interception of the season against Purdue. He would record one more interception on the season. As a freshman, he averaged 22.2 yards per kickoff return.


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