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90-in-90 Bengals Roster Breakdown: Dre Kirkpatrick looks primed for a breakout year

Kirkpatrick will play a major role in the Bengals’ defense in the upcoming season. Healthy after playing through a shoulder injury in 2015, the former first-round corner will have an opportunity to earn a long-term extension in Cincinnati.

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Training Camp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Dre Kirkpatrick is one of the most enigmatic players on the Cincinnati Bengals. Once a first-round pick, he has the physical makeup of a player who could potentially be a dominant cornerback. But while he’s capitalized on his strengths and shown glimpses of potential at times, his inconsistent play has given him a negative reputation.

If you treat Pro Football Focus’ player-grading and ranking system as fact, you’re likely not that high on Dre Kirkpatrick. And while I definitely don’t value PFF’s grades as high as many NFL fans, Kirkpatrick’s grade is pretty understandable. Only the Chiefs’ Marcus Peters was targeted more than the former first-round pick, who was very inconsistent throughout the season in 2015. While Kirkpatrick was far from excellent last year, he certainly wasn’t bad; rather, he was inconsistent — there’s a fine line between being bad and being inconsistent, and Kirkpatrick is on the latter side of the line.

That’s not to say inconsistency is an excusable issue. Kirkpatrick, like a few of his teammates, needs to be more consistent on a week-to-week basis in order to be regarded as a quality starter. But the potential is there. The 26-year-old flew all over the field in the Bengals’ victory over the Rams last year, and he helped to shut down DeAndre Hopkins in the team’s loss to the Texans. Kirkpatrick also got under Antonio Brown’s skin, playing a huge role in limiting the superstar wideout’s production in all three of the Bengals’ 2015 matchups with the Steelers.

As fans know, with the corner’s great moments come the frustrating ones. He dropped a would-be pick six against the Browns which would’ve gone for over 100 yards, he got burned by several wide receivers throughout the season and, like many others on the Bengals’ defense, missed his fair share of tackles.

But Cincinnati’s trust in Kirkpatrick, in my mind, is very telling of what I believe will be a breakout year in 2016. The Bengals gave Kirkpatrick a huge role as the team’s left corner, trusting him to handle opponents’ number one wideouts while teammate Adam Jones feasted on matchups with less-talented receivers on the other side of the field. And at times, he showed why the Bengals trusted him enough to sign his fifth-year option. He’s yet to earn a long-term deal, but if he can perform on a more consistent basis in 2016, the Bengals will more than likely lock him up long-term.

Player Info

Height: 6’2”
Weight: 185 pounds
Age: 26
College: Alabama
Hometown: Gadsden, AL
Position: Cornerback

Contract Status

24 corners will make more money this season than Kirkpatrick, who is playing on his fifth-year option. Though many Bengals fans understandably have a gripe about the team’s cornerback spending, nine teams pay their top two corners than Cincinnati does. If the Bengals lock up Kirkpatrick to a long-term deal, I expect him to make a yearly salary of about $5 million, similar to the yearly pay of 2016 free agents Prince Amukamara, Casey Hayward or Coty Sensabaugh. At the very least, the Bengals could sign him to another one-year deal, similar to what former first-rounders Amukamara and Morris Claiborne did, signing one-year deals for $5 million or less during the 2016 offseason.

2016 Stock

Kirkpatrick will be the Bengals’ left corner, which means he’ll generally be responsible for covering opponents’ top receivers. Whether in zone or man coverage, the corner will play a major role in helping Cincinnati repeat as one of the NFL’s top pass defenses. He trained with future Hall of Fame corner Champ Bailey over the offseason, which is a huge reason for optimism. Additionally, he seems healthy after rehabbing a shoulder injury which nagged him throughout the 2015 season.

Perhaps the opportunity to earn a new contract and his increased responsibility in the secondary will help Kirkpatrick have a career year in 2016. Perhaps it won’t. Only time will tell. If he plays well in 2016, Kirkpatrick will be worth keeping around, but if he doesn’t, the Bengals should move on. Week 1 is under a month away, so we’ll hopefully find out which Kirkpatrick — the guy who has shown in spurts he’s capable of being the team’s long-term solution at the position, or the one whose bad moments have outweighed the good ones — will show up to play in 2016.