Back in the 2012 NFL Draft, Alabama star Dre Kirkpatrick was viewed by many as the second or third-best corner in the draft and someone worthy of a top-20 pick.
The Bengals ended up taking him with the 17th-overall pick, and while he's shown flashes of justifying that pick, he hasn't lived up to that billing through his first four years in the NFL. We talked about that earlier this week and how Kirkpatrick's days in Bengals stripes may be numbered with several other talented corners on the roster, not to mention his contract is up at the end of the 2016 season.
But even with the possibility of Kirkpatrick leaving in free agency next year, using the 17th-overall pick in that draft on him was a good move by the Bengals, at least based on who else was worthy of a first-round pick and was selected after Kirkpatrick. Plus, he's been better than several guys drafted ahead of him.
Via Pro Football Reference:
Looking at the guys who went after Kirkpatrick in Round 1 and who fell into the top of Round 2, it's easy to see that Kirkpatrick was actually a good pick where the Bengals got him. Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Melvin Ingram have become good players, but like Kirkpatrick, have had up-and-down careers to this point while injuries have limited their production.
Heck, Kirkpatrick ended up being a better pick than the top-ranked corner in that draft, LSU's Morris Claiborne. He went sixth overall to Dallas, but has been a massive bust to this point, whether it's his poor play on the field or multiple injuries that have limited him to just 40 games through four seasons.
Now, you could really argue that Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, who just inked a big extension with the Vikings, would have been a better pick there. However, even passing on Smith worked out for the Bengals after they got George Iloka in Round 5 of that same draft.
In comparison, the Vikings got defensive back Robert Blanton in Round 5, and he's now with the Bills after being mostly a backup in Minnesota. I'd definitely take the combination of Kirkpatrick and Iloka over Smith and Blanton.
There's also the fact that Reggie Nelson was also a full-time starter from the time Kirkpatrick was Drafted until this offseason before being replaced with Shawn Williams. In other words, the Bengals have been perfectly fine after passing on Smith, one of the few players that you could have argued would be worthy now of the 17th pick.
Looking at some of the other guys who went after Kirkpatrick, the Bengals could have certainly done worse with guys like A.J. Jenkins, Kendall Wright, Brandon Weeden, Nick Perry and David Wilson who are nowhere close to worthy of Round 1 selections.
And despite his struggles, Kirkpatrick has shown the potential to be a quality starting corner, which in today's pass-happy NFL, is worth a first-round pick. The sad truth is that even average corners are worth a top-60 pick, at least based on how the Steelers have been drafting. It's also not unheard of for NFL corners to reach their full potential in their fourth of fifth seasons, so big things may be ahead for him.
Looking at how the first round played out, Kirkpatrick would probably still be Drafted around 17 if we're doing a re-draft of only the first round. Sure, there were better players who were taken after Round 1, but no matter how you spin it, he was a first-round prospect who deserved to be Drafted where he did.
Hopefully, Kirkpatrick will have a big 2016 season and only further validate that notion, even if he ends up leaving in free agency next year.