If Kenya Dennis is to be trusted, he ran a pair of sub-4.4 40-yard dashes this month.

That’s a scary proposition for SEC offenses. Dennis, at 6-foot and 200 pounds, is bigger and more physical than the rest of Missouri’s cornerbacks, but wasn’t regarded as one of the fastest players on the defense when he transferred to the Tigers last year from Hinds Community College.

4.38 ?????? #speedKills #proday #SEC

A video posted by Kenya Dennis (@kd7_e) on

Dennis started 11 games in ’14, somewhat of a surprise, and now has a chance to emerge as one of the better corners in the SEC and the team’s best defensive back. (Safety Braylon Webb has exhausted his eligibility.) Dennis made 61 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, in ’14 with nine pass breakups.

Aarion Penton may have a slight edge on Dennis as the team’s best cover corner, but he’s not as versatile and spent the end of last season in the doghouse after an arrest for marijuana possession.

Teams often report too-good-to-believe 40-yard dash times when coaches use their own stopwatches rather than having an independent, electronically-timed test. But even if Dennis’ true time is a full tenth of a second slower, that still gives him sub-4.5 speed, which is good enough to be dangerous given Mizzou’s propensity for off coverage.

Said David Morrison in the Columbia Tribune:

You look at Dennis and see a lot of things. Big. Physical. Aggressive. Willing to take risks. Not necessarily “one of the fastest guys on the team.” Until now. If his improvement trajectory continues from last season, he could be setting up for a monster senior year.

Nicknamed “Squishy” by his community college coaches due to the pool of sweat that accumulated in his shoes and made noise during practice, a recent Missourian profile on Dennis depicted him as a shy small-town Mississippi native who didn’t get a single Division I offer out of high school.

Dennis got offers from Auburn, Arkansas and Missouri after just one year at Hinds, but vowed to teammates he’d return because the team had a losing record. As a junior college honorable-mention All-American, he helped Hinds to a 7-3 record in ’13 before heading to Columbia, Mo.

Listening to him talk this month, he’s still more concerned with team success.

“We’re trying to get back (to the SEC championship) and get the job done this year,” Dennis said, according to the Kansas City Star. “We’ve knocked on the door a few times. We’re just trying to kick the door in this time and get the whole thing.”

The Tigers hope that defensive ends like Charles Harris and Marcus Loud can make major leaps in ’15, but the duo is far behind where Markus Golden and Shane Ray were entering last spring. Led by Harold Brantley, the defensive tackles should improve.

But taken as a group, the Mizzou secondary may not be able to rely on one of the nation’s best pass rushes to simplify the job. The team boasts an experienced group of defensive backs, but Ian Simon is sliding into the role that Webb played last year and there will be a new starter at the other safety spot.

For those reasons, even more progress by Dennis would be a huge help to the defense.

One of the most impressive things about Dennis last year was his learning curve, which bodes well for his continued improvement. He competed with John Gibson for a starting job in fall camp. Mizzou didn’t make up its mind until well into the season, but then Dennis started locking up the role.

“The discipline and all that we do, sometimes that’s a big adjustment for junior-college players, but he just jumped right in and kind of gravitated to it,” coach Gary Pinkel said in November, according to the Kansas City Star.

“It was neat to see him embrace (the program). He’s got a great attitude. He works hard. He’s got a lot of energy. So we’re real pleased with his progress. He’s a lot better player right now than he was certainly six or seven weeks ago.”

If the same can be said of Dennis in 2015 — that he’s a better player than he was at the end of last season — he could be the next unheralded player on Missouri’s defense to emerge as a star.