Stop me if you've heard this one before...the Bengals need a cornerback. Ravaged by age, free agency, and injuries, the depth and talent at the cornerback position must be addressed this off-season, and the 2012 NFL Draft is the best route to do so. This draft's class of corner backs runs deep, but Sports Illustrated draft guru Tony Pauline believes there are only two true talents: LSU's Morris Claiborne and Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick. In his latest rankings, only those two players were marked as surefire first round picks. Pauline's top five corner back prospects are as follows:
|1-2||Janoris Jenkins||North Alabama||4Sr|
|1-2||Stephon Gilmore||South Carolina||3Jr|
Claiborne has been the unanimous top prospect from the beginning, a top five pick in almost all mock drafts and never less than a top ten pick. Minus a highly unlikely trade to the top five, Claiborne is out of the question for the Bengals.
Dre Kirkpatrick is an intriguing prospect. A definite first round talent, Kirkpatrick's draft stock is hard to gauge. On January 17th, Kirkpatrick was arrested for possession of marijuana, and while charges were dropped only a few weeks after, character issues are still a concern for many teams. CBS Sports' mock drafts had Kirkpatrick going to the Dallas Cowboys at No.14, but Mocking The Draft has him being selected much later by the Detroit Lions at pick No. 23. Where Kirkpatrick will be selected is anyone's guess, but it would be very interesting to see what the Bengals would do with Kirkpatrick still on the board at No. 17.
The player who seemingly will be available for the Bengals is Janoris Jenkins. ESPN's Todd McShay called Jenkins an "elite cover corner" and had him being selected by the Cowboys at No. 14, but many other mock drafts have him going much later including Mocking the Draft who has Jenkins selected by the Denver Broncos at No. 25. Jenkins also has questions regarding his character, being dismissed from the University of Florida football team after his second drug arrest in 3 months, but is still a first round talent and a first round selection in almost every mock draft. It's surprising that Pauline labels him as a possible second rounder, but don't be surprised with Jenkins being selected by Cincinnati at No. 17 or No. 21.
The trend with recent mock drafts is Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina going late first round--Mocking the Draft has him selected by the New England Patriots at No. 31--but many other mock drafts don't have Gilmore in the first round at all. Gilmore is a promising defensive back, but a much less sought after talent than the three prospects ahead of him. Only if Claiborne, Kirkpatrick and Jenkins are all selected would the Bengals be looking at Stephon Gilmore, and even then they might choose Nebraska's Alonzo Dennard instead. With his draft stock steadily slipping since the end of the college football season, it is not surprising that Pauline lists Dennard as a second round prospect. On Dennard, TFY Draft Insider says the following:
More and more people we've spoken with feel that Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will ultimately be ranked as a safety by teams come draft time. They point to his body type, specifically a thick lower body, and the stiffness he displayed all (Senior Bowl) week.
Cornerback is a hole Cincinnati must fill this off-season, but it is not the only one and it can't be the sole focus on draft day. This year's draft is especially crucial and for the Bengals to select a cornerback, it'll have to be a prospect they truly believe in. It'll be interesting to see who exactly that prospect is.