After a disappointing 2017, Kirkpatrick has seemingly become a Bengals pariah. We try to break down why exactly it is that Kirkpatrick is so disliked.
Bengals fans seemingly have a common hate for Dre Kirkpatrick, which I don’t entirely understand. When looking at this roster, Kirkpatrick is often the player fans will point to as a flaw in the defense or a weak link in the secondary. While he’s not among the stars of this team, Kirkpatrick is certainly a viable starter who provides a certain set of skills that can complement the other cornerbacks on this team very well.
The source of Kirkpatrick hate, I believe, comes from two places. These are the two biggest issues I take with Kirkpatrick as well. First and foremost, he has one of the worst contracts on the entire team. The Bengals extended Kirkpatrick after his 2016 season, giving him a 5-year, $55 million contract.
That $11 million a year figure places him in the second tier of NFL cornerbacks – not quite elite, but above average starter. Based on how Kirkpatrick played in 2017, he did not earn that $11 million. The Bengals seemingly paid for upside that Kirkpatrick will struggle to deliver, so he certainly seems like an overpaid corner at this point. His contract also inhibited the Bengals from paying longtime LT Andrew Whitworth, which really frustrated the fan base.
The other issue with Kirkpatrick is his inability to contain the deep ball. His biggest physical flaw is his lack of straight-line and foot speed, which means burners can really take advantage of him. For a guy like Kirkpatrick, that means one or two slip ups a game can lead to big plays for the opposing team. He seemingly gives these plays up on a consistent basis, which is a big problem for fans.
Looking at this play in particular, you can see the problem for Kirkpatrick. In coverage on Corey Coleman, he overreads the play and allows Coleman to burn him deep. Kirkpatrick is playing up in press coverage on this play, and sees Coleman plant to cut inside for a slant. He lunges to break up the play, but gets out of position. Coleman easily cuts back outside and slips right past Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick doesn’t have the recovery speed to get back on guys when he makes these kinds of mistakes.
While Kirkpatrick has these very real flaws, there’s a reason he still starts for the Bengals. Kirkpatrick’s physical stature is pretty overwhelming for a cornerback, standing at 6’2″ and almost 200 pounds. Notably, Kirkpatrick has a great wingspan – although never officially measured, it would make NBA GMs look twice.
Playing against WR1s, Kirkpatrick’s size isn’t enough alone. However, with Williams Jackson III playing opposite him, the Bengals can sic Kirkpatrick on number two receivers. With his size, he can press on WR2s and shut them down early with his length. Many secondary receivers can’t get much separation on him, and they’re usually not fast enough to burn Kirkpatrick, who has 4.51 speed.
The other great skill Kirkpatrick has is a nose for the ball. The Bengals have been turnover-deprived the last couple years, but they are making it a focus this season. Kirkpatrick can be useful in this regard, as he often plays aggressively. When he’s sharp, he can be a real asset for the Bengals in this regard. One of his best games, playing against the Peyton Manning Broncos in primetime, saw him record two interceptions to help lock up a playoff spot for the Bengals.
I understand why Kirkpatrick gets a lot of heat from fans. Almost no matter what he does, the Bengals overpaid him. Although he does get burned from time to time, he is still a very solid second cornerback. In 2018, Kirkpatrick should have a bounce-back season for the Bengals, playing more like he did in 2016.