Selecting William Jackson III with the 24th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, in my mind, was the right move. But there are plenty of questions left to be answered. Will he get a shot at playing time on defense if he can digest the playbook? Where does he fit in the Bengals' defense? And, most notably, what does this mean for Dre Kirkpatrick?
When it comes to scheme, I actually haven't been able to find a better breakdown of the Bengals' defense than I found in this article on Steelers Depot. As the writers explain, Cincinnati generally likes to run a base Cover-2 defense, occasionally mixing things up with some Cover-3 and man-to-man looks. Generally speaking, however, the Bengals play a ton of zone defense, which is where most scouts think Jackson can thrive. Jackson fits the mold of what the Bengals are looking for in a boundary corner: He's tall, quick and instinctive, which are all attributes that the team highly values in its zone scheme.
"They all have understood they can get better by pushing each other" (Marvin on the Bengals corners)— Lindsay Patterson (@LndsPatterson) April 29, 2016
Marvin says Terence Newman, Leon Hall, Adam Jones & others created a competitive environment for DBs here to make each other better #Bengals— Kaci Kust (@KaciKustCN2) April 29, 2016
In terms of scheme, there are still plenty of questions the Bengals need to answer. What exactly should Shawn Williams' role be? He played very well in 2015, but his play style is very different to that of former Bengals safety Reggie Nelson. Does that change the way Paul Guenther runs his defensive scheme and how he utilizes the safeties? If so, should Guenther consider testing out Dre Kirkpatrick as a safety? In addition, the team needs to figure out who it has in Darqueze Dennard and Josh Shaw. Dennard figures to be the team's hope as the long-term slot corner, but a 2015 injury landed the corner on injured reserve. Shaw, versatile enough to potentially play safety or cornerback, seems like a guy who could play either slot or boundary corner. Is he the long-term answer as the left corner opposite Jackson? Or does the team still hope Kirkpatrick can be the answer? And if Kirkpatrick is the answer, is Josh Shaw just a backup? Finally, Chris Lewis-Harris played well at times last year, but can he latch onto a roster spot? We'll learn the answers to these questions as the summer plays out, but as for now, all we can do is speculate and hope to see more starting-quality players than there are starting spots.
With the announcement of the 24th overall selection, many Bengal fans have come to think that Dre Kirkpatrick's time in Cincinnati is riding on his play this year. I'm here to tell you that it's not. First of all, the opportunity to earn more money cannot be underestimated. Players frequently thrive in contract years and earn big-money contracts. Kirkpatrick is now 26-years-old, and he's still in the early prime of his career.
Though last season was a bit disappointing for him, we just learned he was playing through a sprained shoulder injury and, it's important to note that 2015 was the first season in which Kirkpatrick started more than three games. He may have been the second-most targeted corner in the league, but he was also experiencing the learning curve of becoming a starting corner in the NFL. The Bengals certainly haven't given up on him. Sure, Kirkpatrick may not have played up to the $7.5 million salary he'll be earning this season. But who knows, maybe the corner breaks out and rewards the team who took a chance on him by sticking around and letting him play out his fifth year option.
Those who believe the Bengals shouldn't have exercised Kirkpatrick's fifth year option bring up valid concerns in that the corner hasn't been ultra-impressive in his time as a starter. Kirkpatrick's critics have pointed out how other corners in the 2012 Draft class, such as Bills corner Stephon Gilmore, have already enjoyed NFL success. And while that may be true, that doesn't necessarily mean that Kirkpatrick is not the answer in Cincinnati. I'm not saying he is the answer, but I still believe it's too early to rule it out. The aforementioned Gilmore has tallied nine interceptions and 50 pass deflections in 53 games. He started 51 of those games. Kirkpatrick has tallied six interceptions and 28 pass deflections in 51 games, which seems disappointing at first. But, he has only started 20, which equates to 39 percent, of the total games in which he's played. Comparing the two players head-to-head is unfair, especially given Kirkpatrick's injury-riddled career.
Ultimately, William Jackson III is a great fit for the Bengals. He immediately compensates for the loss of Leon Hall and upgrades the depth at boundary cornerback. Adam Jones, Kirkpatrick and Jackson figure to be the Bengals' top three boundary corners. Darqueze Dennard should start at slot, while Josh Shaw competes for snaps wherever he can get them.