Sixth in a series looking at the Patriots' 2012 NFL Draft picks, and the roles they might play for the Patriots next year.
Name: Alfonzo Dennard
Drafted: 6th round, 197th overall
Overview: In the weeks leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft, former Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was seen by most as a late first - early second round draft pick. In fact, there were a number of mock drafts that had Dennard going to the Patriots with the second of their first round picks. Unfortunately for Dennard, just days before the draft, he was involved in a situation where he supposedly punched a police officer outside a bar in Lincoln, Nebraska. The issue saw his draft stock plummet to the point where the Patriots were able to get Dennard in the seventh round. Therefore, in a way, Dennard isn't your usual seventh round pick, because he's really a top talent. At 5'10" and 204 lbs, Dennard is a little shorter than ideal, but can play physical in press and jam receivers at the line. He's a good tackler, has good closing speed, and likely can excel in either man or zone systems in the NFL.
Projected Role: Dennard's draft status puts him in a bit of a unique situation. Had the Patriots drafted him in the second or third round, there probably wouldn't have been many complaints. At the same time, most probably would have seen him as a lock to make the final roster. Assuming he can take care of his legal issues, I think that Dennard will find a place for himself on the 53 man roster come September. Still, the Patriots have an unheralded amount of depth at the cornerback position, and I'm not sure how much playing time Dennard will actually see as a rookie. If he can prove to be capable on special teams, he should be able to stick on the active game day roster. If that's the scenario, I could easily see Dennard getting a few snaps at a variety of spots in the defensive backfield. Dennard should be capable of playing the boundary, the slot, and possibly even a little safety. Overall, I'd say Dennard is a bit of a wildcard heading into training camp. I'm not going to count him out as a first year contributor, but I do think he'll be a valuable piece by 2013.
Projected Stats: 16 games played (1 start); 20 tackles; 4 PD; 1 int
Bottom Line: Limited role as a versatile defensive back (outside, slot, safety) in 2012, with a chance for an increased playing time and a starting role in 2013.