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Newly-signed cornerback Darqueze Dennard expected to compete on the outside

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars made a pair of free agent signings yesterday, agreeing to deals with middle linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

While Schobert was the splashier signing, Dennard also fills a need for the Jaguars at cornerback with A.J, Bouye being traded away to the Denver Broncos. He reportedly signed a three-year deal worth $13.5 million, with $6 million guaranteed.

Dennard spent the majority of his time with the Cincinnati Bengals playing as the nickel cornerback. However, he is expected to compete for a starting spot on the outside, according to the Associated Press’ Mark Long.

D.J. Hayden, who has played quite well for the Jaguars in the nickel spot, appears to be remaining in that role. Currently, the other option at outside cornerback is Tre Herndon who was hit or miss last year, but flashed his potential in the latter half of the season. The Jaguars may be comfortable with the trio of Dennard, Herndon and Hayden, but I would still expect the team to add at least one more cornerback to compete for a starting role either through the NFL Draft or by bringing in another free agent.

To be clear, Dennard has played on the outside as well. According to Pro Football Reference, Dennard played a total of 494 defensive snaps in 2019 (plus an additional 46 snaps on special teams). However, about 68.6 percent of his snaps came in the slot.

So, Dennard playing on the outside is interesting. He also has a history of injuries, having played in all 16 games just once in a season, which came in 2017. Dennard appeared in just nine games, with five starts, in 2019 after starting the season on the physically unable to perform list following offseason arthroscopic knee surgery. This caused him to miss the Bengals’ first six games of the campaign, and he actually made his season debut against Jacksonville in Week 7.

When Dennard did play last season, he was quite effective. He allowed just 16 catches on 36 targets, or at about a 44 percent clip. He led Cincinnati in catch rate allowed below expectation at 16.3 percent, according to NFL Next Gen Stats (information found via ESPN). He also had a solid overall Pro Football Focus grade of 72.2 in 2019.

On a personal level, I am excited about this signing, as I used to watch Dennard play for Michigan State during his college days, where he was dominant. He won the Jim Thorpe and Jack Tatum awards (both awarded for the country’s top defensive back) in 2013. The former first-rounder has plenty of talent.

Of course, Dennard is no sure thing with the injury trouble, lack of experience playing on the outside and small sample size of success. However, he is a capable veteran at a position of need the Jags were able to bring in on a relatively modest deal. There is plenty of reason for optimism here.

Update: Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone confirms the team views Dennard as a press cornerback who will play outside.