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Bengals roster breakdown, 90-in-90: Dre Kirkpatrick key piece to the puzzle

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After years on the bench, the former first-round pick is now entering the prime of his career with a brand new contract.

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

After signing Dre Kirkpatrick to a huge five year, $52.5 million dollar extension in the offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals hope the former first round pick will hit his prime in stride and lead a unit loaded with young talent. The team’s cornerback position faces many questions and Kirkpatrick may be the only safe bet.

Heading into his sixth year in the NFL, here’s what you should know about the up-and-coming cornerback.

Dre Kirkpatrick

Position: Cornerback

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 185 pounds

College: Alabama

Hometown: Gadsden, Alabama

Experience: Sixth-year player

Draft status: 1st-round pick, 17th overall in 2012

Cap status

Kirkpatrick is signed to a five-year, $52,500,000 contract with the Bengals, including a $7,000,000 signing bonus, $12,000,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $10,500,000. In 2017, Kirkpatrick will earn a base salary of $2,550,000, a signing bonus of $7,000,000, a roster bonus of $5,234,375 and a workout bonus of $200,000, while carrying a cap hit of $9,384,375 and a dead cap value of $12,000,000, according to Spotrac.

While the cap hit rises in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the dead cap decreases each year, allowing the Bengals to cut ties with Kirkpatrick with relative ease after the 2019 season.

Background

When drafted by the Bengals back in 2012, Kirkpatrick was expected to be a perfect fit for the cover 3 defense the Bengals employ. It took Kirkpatrick a few years to actually have the chance to become a consistent contributor for the team, despite his draft pedigree and college success at Alabama.

After not cracking the starting eleven until 2015, many thought the Bengals shouldn’t have even picked up his fifth-year option, but they did and he had a breakout campaign with a strong second-half to the season.

Last year he was one of the few bright spots on a secondary that struggled mightily with minimal support from the pass rush. It was a year of change for the secondary, as veteran leaders Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson left the team in the offseason and Kirkpatrick stepped up both his game and his leadership of the group.

Some still doubt he deserved the money he got when the team re-signed him to a massive deal this offseason, but as a young free agent in an increasingly key position, he got paid accordingly.

With Adam Jones suspended for the season opener and after fellow first-round pick William Jackson III redshirted his rookie year, Kirkpatrick is the only guy the team knows it can rely on. Darqueze Dennard is still pretty much a question mark, Josh Shaw is much better in the slot and KeiVarae Russell played a grand total of one defensive snap in 2016.

Kirkpatrick suffered a hand injury in a freak accident early this spring, but he was ready to start training camp and even made plays with that hand he’s still nursing.

Once considered a borderline bust, Kirkpatrick is arguably now the best player in the Bengals’ cornerback unit and will have to prove he’s worth the contract he signed this year. His numbers might not back up this claim, but he was ranked the 32nd best corner in the league by The Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and he’s only getting better. ProFootballFocus.com even declared he was the best in the NFL against the go route after not allowing a single catch in 9 opportunites. That can only get better with a revamped pass rush this year as well as another year of experience in the NFL.

Roster chances

The Bengals’ cornerback unit is on the rise, with the former Crimson Tide player entering the prime years of his career and a lot of youngsters like Jackson, Russell and Shaw looking to make an impact. Kirkpatrick will be the team’s No. 1 cornerback and a leader on the team for the foreseeable future and will look to lock down the right side of the field. There’s no chance he doesn’t make the 53-man roster and he’s assured of a starting spot.

Roster odds: 100 percent.