Late last week, Darqueze Dennard, the standout top defensive talent and Jim Thorpe Award winner formerly of Michigan State, was selected 24th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. Come late Saturday night and Sunday morning, to much surprise, he was the only former Spartan selected at all.
The 2014 graduating class is one of the most-successful in recent MSU history - Not only did they win the Big Ten Championship, but they emerged victorious in the 100th annual Rose Bowl by taking down a tough Stanford team. They key to much of this success? The Spartans' defense.
Dennard was in the shining spotlight of that squad, heading the MSU "No-Fly Zone", where the dominant defensive back kept the ball out of the hands of many opponent's wide receivers. When Dennard was selected 26th overall, he became the first Michigan State player to be taken in the first round since Charles Rogers was selected by the Detroit Lions back in 2003.
At that point, just after the first round, even MSU head coach Mark Dantonio thought that many more of his star players would be taken in the draft before all was said and done.
“We’re going to have some more guys drafted (Friday) and the next day,” he said, “and others will have an opportunity as free agents. This program is going in the right direction.”
But, sadly for them, Dantonio was wrong, and not another single Spartan was taken in the rest of the draft, which ran through Saturday night. As to why so many NFL teams turned their back to MSU players, one can only guess and speculate.
Possibly the biggest shocker is the shunning of former MSU team leader, Max Bullough, who at 6-foot-3 and 245-pounds was a three-year starter at middle linebacker and finished with 299 tackles and was All-Big Ten first team and third-team All-American as a senior. The final chapter of Bullough's story was not a happy one, as the captain was forced to not play or even travel with the team to the Rose Bowl, due to a "violation of team rules" that was enforced by coach Dantonio.
Whatever Bullough did to deserve to be shunned from the team's final outing at the Rose Bowl has never had an official explanation from Dantonio or the team, but the backlash from his punishment seems to have permanently damaged his draft stock and more than likely caused him to drop off the radars of many NFL teams. Had the violation never happened and Bullough performed well in the Rose Bowl, as expected, he might be joining Dennard as a high draft pick celebrating with his new team right now; instead, he ended up being picked as a free agent by the Huston Texans moments after the draft and likely has a lot less coin in his pocket for it.
Other free agent signings after the draft concluded were safety Isaiah Lewis going to Cincinnati to rejoin Dennard in the secondary. Defensive tackle Tyler Hoover signed with Indianapolis, wide receiver Bennie Fowler signed with the Denver Broncos, and defensive tackle Micajah Reynolds signed with New Orleans while linebacker Denicos Allen signed with Carolina. On Sunday, offensive linemen Fou Fonoti signed with San Francisco and Dan France signed with Cincinnati.
Those still hoping to find a home on an NFL team are free-agent offensive lineman Blake Treadwell, quarterback Andrew Maxwell, linebacker Kyler Elsworth, and defensive end Denzel Drone.
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.