CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 12: Dre Kirkpatrick #27 of the Cincinnati Bengals works out during a rookie minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium on May 12, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Cincinnati's first pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, Dre Kirkpatrick injects much-needed youth and talent into a position currently constructed by veterans Leon Hall, Nate Clements, Terence Newman and Jason Allen. Adam Jones will compete for playing time, mostly as a third cornerback and possible return specialist while Brandon Ghee has made enough of an impression during offseason practices this year to be mentioned.
Kirkpatrick, who claims to have never backpedaled in college, has the raw talent to start in the NFL but the question as to whether he's ready will be determined in the coming months. However just because he's a first-round pick doesn't automatically suggest he'll start when the Bengals take the field on Monday Night Football against the Baltimore Ravens. Of course we base much of that assumption on as much recent history as we do reports that surfaced during the offseason workouts. The irony in how similar former first-round cornerbacks fielded their eventual first-team promotion and how an aging cornerback and injury dictated their futures.
Johnathan Joseph, selected in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, started the regular season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs during his rookie season, replacing an injured Deltha O'Neal, who returned the following week against the Browns. Joseph, largely a third cornerback during the first-half of his rookie season, eventually made his way to the starting lineup when O'Neal's health began deteriorating midway through the year. Eventually Joseph kept the starting job despite O'Neal's return and remained Cincinnati's starting cornerback until he left for free agency in 2010.
Likewise Leon Hall, selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft, started the regular season opener against Baltimore during his rookie season, due to Johnathan Joseph's injured foot. Though Hall started, the Bengals employed a rotation between the two cornerbacks, limiting Joseph's overall participation while getting Hall's feet wet. Joseph started the following week and resumed his regular cornerback duties on the right side. Save for a spot start against Kansas City, Hall wouldn't actually become a regular starter until week 10 that season, replacing Deltha O'Neal as the regular starter at left cornerback.
It may appear that Kirkpatrick is following a similar design. Assuming that Hall starts the regular season opener, the starting cornerback opposite of Hall would presumably be Nate Clements. As Kirkpatrick develops (and learns to backpedal... seriously?), the rookie out of Alabama would eventually replace the veteran, somewhat similar to the Circle of Life (the annual Lion King reference quota).
It shouldn't be viewed as a criticism that Kirkpatrick won't start the regular season. Some will beg to know why, or blame the team for drafting a cornerback that's not ready by week one. In fact if he outperforms likely candidates like Clements, or Terence Newman (reportedly praised with a good camp), we'd expect the transition to happen sooner rather than later. However those before him, like Hall and Joseph, had to wait for their opportunities and when they got them, they didn't let go.