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Dre Kirkpatrick played through shoulder injury in 2015; now rehabbing after surgery

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Dre Kirkpatrick played through a significant injury in 2015 that led to him having offseason surgery.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It came as quite the surprise when the Cincinnati Bengals spent a first-round pick on a cornerback in this year's NFL Draft.

With Adam Jones, Darqueze Dennard, Dre Kirkpatrick and Josh Shaw having that position secure, it didn't seem like an area that Cincinnati could afford to spend a high pick on this year. Houston Cougars corner William Jackson was great value at the 24th pick, so most assumed the Bengals were just taking the best player available at that point.

That may still be the case, but now there's some news that suggests that may have actually been a 'need' pick vs just a 'BPA' selection. According to ESPN's Coley Harvey, starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick played through a significant injury in 2015 that led to him having surgery this offseason. He's now on the mend while recovering, but it should not affect his availability in 2016.

Here is Harvey's report on how and when the injury occurred:

Shoulder surgery was an option for Kirkpatrick during the season. But he would have had a three-month recovery window, and the source indicated the first-year starter was unwilling to lose that much playing time.

The shoulder injury was suffered in the third quarter of the Bengals' Week 3 win at Baltimore when Kirkpatrick landed awkwardly while trying tackle Ravens receiver Steve Smith Sr. at the goal line. On the fourth-and-5 play, Smith caught a screen before breaking a couple of tackles and getting free down the right sideline. Safety Reggie Nelson and linebacker Emmanuel Lamur both missed tackles near the first-down marker before Kirkpatrick and other defenders went into chase mode. Kirkpatrick caught Smith, but it was too late. The 50-yard score gave Baltimore its first touchdown of the game.

Kirkpatrick sprained his right AC joint after he landed, the source said. Still, he finished the game. Kirkpatrick later recorded two tackles and also allowed Smith to score another touchdown. On that go-ahead, fourth-quarter score, Smith pushed off Kirkpatrick's right shoulder to create separation right at the goal line.

On one hand, this does help explain why Kirkpatrick struggled so badly at times in coverage and just making tackles. It was so bad that teams were building offensive game plans based largely on going after Kirkpatrick in coverage.

In a separate article, Harvey notes how badly Kirk was in terms of missed tackles, which undoubtedly were aided by the shoulder sprain.

PFF charged Kirkpatrick with 16 missed tackles, and credited him with surrendering 307 yards after the catch. Those were the second- and 11th-worst figures among corners last season.

On one hand, it's good to know that Dre wasn't as bad as he was in 2015 on his own. You have to think that a shoulder injury that was significant enough to eventually have surgery on at least somewhat contributed to his struggles.

But on the other hand, you then have to bring back the injury-prone label for Dre, which appeared that he'd shed after his first three seasons were marred by various injuries. If you're going to give Dre the benefit of the doubt that the injury affected his play, then you in turn have to acknowledge he still hasn't made it through a full season without injuries affecting him.

One thing is for sure: Kirkpatrick is entering what may ended up being the most important season of his NFL career. If he shines in 2016, teams will be lining up to throw big-money contracts at him as good corners have become a premium in the NFL.

But if he struggles again, he may not get anything more than a two or three-year deal that pays him like an average starter. He's shown the potential for the former to happen, but the latter seems more realistic if he can't stay healthy enough to play close to his full ability.

Either way, the Bengals gave themselves a lot more security at corner by adding Jackson in the draft. What looked like a good pick initially now looks like a great one that may end up being the best move they could have made at 24.