2014 Depth Chart (6 Cornerbacks)
Starters: Terrance Newman, Leon Hall, Adam Jones
Backups: Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Chris Lewis-Harris
PS: Onterio McCalebb
Despite being saddled with the league's worst pass rush, the Bengals pass defense ranked 3rd in opponents' QB rating, 3rd in touchdowns allowed (18), 3rd in interceptions and 6th in YPA (6.6). In other words, the Bengals cornerbacks had a pretty good 2014. Adam Jones may have had his best season as a Bengal, and while Leon Hall appeared to lose a step, he had a decent season overall. Dre Kirkpatrick had a coming out party at the end of 2014 as he began to take over for the now departed Terrance Newman. And while I would have liked to see more of Darqueze Dennard, his lack of playing time was not a knock on his talent, but rather an indication of how well the veteran corners were playing in front of him; I believe Dennard will benefit from the year of observation.
For a man coming off two torn Achilles in three years, Hall looked very good. Unfortunately, when matched up against NFL wide receivers, he looked like a guy coming off two Achilles tears in three years. With a big cap number in 2015, many thought the Bengals would restructure Hall's deal or cut him. I don't think they will. If Hall returns to form, I think he will get another contract with the Bengals for 2-3 years at a reasonable number. However, if he doesn't return to form, I think the Bengals will let him go - hence why they won't restructure (i.e. extend) his deal. Personally, I think the Bengals should use Dennard and Kirkpatrick as their starters and rotate Hall and Jones in the slot and experiment with Hall as a safety. I think Hall is the type of savvy veteran who could play five to six more years as a safety - like Rod Woodson - and with Reggie Nelson and George Iloka both free agents after the 2015 season, maybe Hall could step in as the free safety.
Jones had arguably his best season as a Bengal, both as a cornerback and a return man, however, with two first rounders behind him, I would expect to see less of Jones at cornerback in 2015 and more of him as a punt returner. At 31-years-old, Jones appears to still have plenty left in the tank, but in the final year of his contract, he may be playing for his last contract.
Limited by injuries in his first few years as a pro, Kirkpatrick was finally healthy in 2014 and without a doubt had his best season as a pro. In limited snaps Kirkpatrick tied for second on the team with 3 interceptions and lead the team in interceptions per snap. At the end of the season, Kirkpatrick took a good deal of playing time from Newman and played very well. I expect Kirkpatrick will finally get his shot to start in 2015.
In 2014, the Bengals landed the best corner in the draft...and then didn't play him. However, Dennard's lack of playing time was not because he wasn't ready, but rather a result of circumstances - he was behind four other first round veteran corners who were all playing pretty well. While Dennard may not start the season as a starter, I expect he and Kirkpatrick to be the starters by the end of the season.
The Bengals thought very highly of Ghee when they took him in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft (96th overall), but injuries never allowed him to play much as a Bengal. In four years in the league, Ghee has a grand total of 21 tackles, 1 interception and 6 passes defensed. After one season in Tennessee, I believe the Bengals brought Ghee back to see if he can become what they once thought he would become. If he shows he can play, he may be the reason the Bengals let Jones and/or Hall walk after 2015.
As the sixth corner, Lewis-Harris rarely saw the field and most of his contributions came on special teams. Lewis-Harris will likely be competing for the final cornerback spot with a rookie (drafted or undrafted).
The former Auburn running back clearly is not trusted by the Bengals coaching staff. Despite having sub 4.4 speed, McCalebb has spent very little time on the 53 man roster...and even less time on the field. I don't think McCalebb makes this roster.
2015 Positional Free Agency Outlook
With the signing of Ghee and a roster with four first round picks, don't expect the Bengals to sign any more free agents at the cornerback position.
2015 Positional Draft Outlook
With Hall, Jones and Kirkpatrick all in the final year of their contracts, and due to the fact that I don't believe the Bengals will sign all of them, I do expect the Bengals to take a corner back at some point in the 2015 draft.
General Roster Makeup: 6 Cornerbacks
2015 Roster Prediction (6):
Hall, Jones, Kirkpatrick, Dennard, Ghee, Lewis-Harris, Rookie
PS (1): Rookie
2015 Positional Stock Outlook:
I like Hall and Jones, but I think they may be nearing the end of their Bengals careers. However, I really like the two kids behind them on the depth chart and believe the "changing" of the cornerback guard will benefit the Bengals in 2015.