The Cincinnati Bengals had two first-round selections during the 2012 NFL Draft with the second, the 27th overall pick, being Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler. Without a doubt, Zeitler has lived up to his billing as an above-average offensive guard since week one and has remained solid for three straight seasons now. The first of those first-round selections landed on Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Getting just about anyone for the semi-retired Carson Palmer would have been satisfactory, and thus getting a first and second-rounder from the Raiders was highway robbery.
But it's not best to view Kirkpatrick by those poor standards... comparing him to "just about anyone." Dre deserves better than that, and he would certainly agree. We should hold him to a higher standard as a former first-round pick. Looking back now, we ask, was Kirkpatrick worth a first-round pick?
Yes, Dre Kirkpatrick was worth the 17th overall pick in 2012
Even if he were healthy during his first couple of seasons, Kirkpatrick would have been stuck behind Leon Hall, Terence Newman, and Adam Jones. It's likely that Kirkpatrick's health issues during his rookie season made that a fairly moot point. But, based on injuries at cornerback this year, the team has been able to tab him more often.
For the second year in a row, Kirkpatrick has risen to the occasion toward the end of the season. In 2013, he had a crucial interception ripping the football out of Antonio Gates' hands against the Chargers, and then a knockout pick-six on Joe Flacco. As the team's top gunner on the punt team, Kirkpatrick has also added a pick against the Browns and then two critical interceptions of Peyton Manning, one of which was a pick-six.
His coverage and technique seems to have improved and added an undeniably impressive pass breakup in the end zone on Marques Colston in New Orleans. This month (December 2014) might be the first big chance he's had in his career, and he has burst onto the scene. Kirkpatrick has shown enough when actually given the opportunity to play, plus he likely has more untapped potential in him, so he is overall worthy of the first-round pick.
No, Dre Kirkpatrick was not worth the 17th overall pick in 2012
Hall, Newman, and Jones being ahead of him is not an excuse for Dre being injury-plagued.
Even though he has looked better this year, his coverage skills have been inconsistent overall. Based on surrendered TDs (relative to the number of snaps he had) and surrendered completion percentage, he was frankly a really bad cornerback his first two years.
Among the top five cornerbacks in the 2012 NFL Draft, Dre is probably on about the same level as Morris Claiborne. However, Stephon Gilmore, Janoris Jenkins, and Casey Hayward have all easily surpassed him.
His inconsistency makes it questionable whether the Bengals will re-sign him. There's a very real chance that he will not be a Bengal in about a year, so at this point, someone saying "the jury is still out on him" would make it obvious that he was not worth the 17th overall pick. Worthy of a later pick, yes, but not a first-rounder.
From the time of his drafting until now, he has not shown enough to be worthy of that first-round pick, even when given the opportunity to play, and whatever potential he may or may not have is not enough either.
(These are not necessarily my personal opinions either way. I'm merely writing what I think each side of the argument would likely say.)