The Bengals have four former first round draft pick cornerbacks who can all seemingly play the position well. But the team will only start two cornerbacks (and up to three in their frequently used nickel defense). So the question becomes which cornerbacks would you like to see the Bengals start and which most deserve the role of being a starter?
There are pros and cons to starting each of the four cornerbacks. And while Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick held the starting roles in 2015, should they be handed the reigns once again in 2016? Let's take a look at each player to evaluate which pairing of cornerbacks would most make sense and why.
Why you start Adam Jones: Jones is coming off his first Pro Bowl season in his nine seasons played in the NFL. He had a great 2015 season, and was rewarded with a nice new contract this offseason. You don’t have a great year and get signed to a big contract to be a backup. Jones allowed only one touchdown in all of 2015 and proved that he's worth of the Bengals' No. 1 cornerback role.
Why you don’t start Adam Jones: Jones is a great punt returner (averaging over 11 yards per return as a Bengal), and a good, although underused kick returner (averaged 31.3 yards per return on 27 returns in 2014, leading the NFL). With three other quality cornerbacks, the Bengals can rotate Jones in from a reserve role at cornerback, allowing him to focus on the return game, and give him some rest as he approaches his mid-30’s.
Why you start Dre Kirkpatrick: He has the most experience behind Jones, and the Bengals trust experience. With the turnover with coaches, it’s nice to have somebody who has experience as a starter and isn't new to the role. Also, Kirkpatrick is in a "motivated" contract year. The Bengals might as well take advantage of that by playing him as much as possible. He finished the 2015 season as one of the team’s top tacklers with 70 total tackles, proving his worth and that he should be rewarded with continued playing time.
Why you don’t start Dre Kirkpatrick: In 2015, Kirkpatrick received 15 starts and played the large majority of the season, but managed to turn that playing time into zero interceptions. Zero interceptions. Rey Maualuga, who doesn’t even play on many passing downs had an interception. Heck, in 2014 wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher even had an interception. Big things were expected from Kirkpatrick in 2015 in his first year being a full-time starter. Unfortunately, he did not take a step forward. If anything, he took a step back. With Jones, Dennard and Jackson signed beyond 2015, Kirkpatrick needs to prove he's the future of the Bengals’ secondary and as of now, he hasn't done that. It could be time to move on and see some playing time for the cornerbacks who can prove their worth as the future of the position.
Why you start Darqueze Dennard: After two seasons, it’s about time to see what Dennard can do. He played well enough in very limited work last year before a shoulder injury prematurely ended his season. He is more likely the future than Kirkpatrick, so it’s time to get him some playing time and see what he can do as a starter.
Why you don’t start Darqueze Dennard: After spending his first season buried deep on the depth chart, and beginning 2015 as a backup before missing the final six games to injury, Dennard is unproven, and still an unknown commodity. He hasn’t shown enough to merit a starting spot, and with the glut of cornerbacks, there is no need to rush him back from the injury. The best thing may be to limit his work so he can recover and return fully healthy to man the slot.
William Jackson III
Why you start William Jackson III: If Jackson emerges from training camp earning high praise, there is no reason not to play him. He’s got size and speed, and was arguably the top pure cornerback drafted in 2016. He could be the real deal, and if he is, the Bengals need to avoid this "sit your rookie" nonsense, and get him on the field as soon as possible.
Why you don’t start William Jackson III: Simply put – because he is a rookie. The Bengals have a very strong aversion to using defensive rookies any more than they absolutely have to. With three more experienced options, the Bengals would be averse to placing an unproven rookie out on an island against some of the league’s better wide receivers. Plus, in addition to the first round corners, there is 2015 draft pick Josh Shaw on the team who also has more experience than Jackson.
With four first round cornerbacks, and two starter positions, there are six permutations of the starting cornerbacks that can be chosen from these options. Who are you rooting for to win the cornerback battle this summer?