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Dre Kirkpatrick needs to step up in contract year

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The former first-round pick is entering the last year of his rookie deal and the Bengals might have already brought in his replacement, William Jackson III.

The Bengals picked a cornerback in the first round of the 2016 Draft to add to a unit that already has Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze DennardJosh Shaw and Chris Lewis-Harris. Are the Bengals getting ready for life after Kirkpatrick, whose fifth-year option was picked by the team but will be a free agent at the end of the season. With the amount of money given nowadays to middling corners in the NFL, it is fair to consider how much Cincinnati will be willing to pay the former Alabama standout going forward.

While the secondary played well throughout the 2015 season, Kirkpatrick was often seen as the weakest link at the position, and a player who had failed to live up to a bigger role in his first year as a full-time starter. Pro Football Focus was hard on him and graded him only better than other two corners in the entire league. The 6-1 former Crimson Tide star will again begin the summer as undisputed number two, on the opposite side of Jones, who re-signed with Cincy for three more seasons in the winter. Kirkpatrick will then have a chance to earn a big contract with the Bengals or elsewhere, but for that, he will definitely have to improve and show why he was a first round pick back in 2012.

He's never become the shutdown corner some predicted he would be when he entered the NFL, but he has made some strides in his ability to go one-on-one deep with bigger wide receivers.

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Despite playing zone more often than not, this is a good skill to have. Kirkpatrick will always have trouble against speedy receivers because of his length, but he is no Brandon Browner. This shows on tape plenty of times, and he was really bad when in the slot.

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His thin frame and short arms are concerning and he lets the wide receiver get his hands on him and control him. Kirkpatrick also gets pushed out of the play way too often. Sometimes it is a veteran move like the one Steve Smith Sr. pulled on him - the play that caused his shoulder injury - but some other times it's just him getting burnt.

His footwork and lateral quickness are what you would expect from a very tall cornerback and as many of you are familiar with, Kirkpatrick had troubles against double moves and other fakes throughout the 2015 season.

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And yet his biggest flaws are the consistent mental lapsus he shows and how bad he was against the run last season - he was seen as a pretty good tackling defensive back coming out of college. Some say he missed so many tackles because of that shoulder injury sustained during their Week 3 clash against the Ravens, but he was doing it before as well. One of those brain farts he had almost cost the Bengals the win against the Steelers in Pittsburgh when he just played zone defense when he was supposed to cover Antonio Brown. Or my favorite moment of his, against the Chargers.

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The jury is still out on Kirkpatrick as he enters his second year as a full-time starter. But with his contract up at the end of the 2016 season, there's no time like the present for him to step up and become the player we've wanted him to be.