Everywhere you turn on the web right now you’re bound to stumble across NFL draft coverage, speculation, and extreme over-analysis. In looking with not just the experts and network-claimed gurus, but with fans, coaches, and players alike; you’ll notice most everyone has just a small handful of players that they believe the Bills will be targeting with the tenth overall pick on the evening of the 26th. This series aims to look at the four most popular that we’re seeing out there – Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd, Iowa’s Riley Reiff, Boston College’s Luke Kuechly, and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick. From now until draft time, we’ll talk about these four kids – what’s good, what’s bad, and how they’d fit with the boys from Orchard Park.
WHO HE IS
Born D’Andre Lawan Kirkpatrick in northern Alabama, Dre Kirkpatrick is a highly touted defensive back from the University of Alabama. Entering the NFL draft in just a few weeks, Kirkpatrick is widely regarded as a first round selection and figures to go anywhere from the mid-twenties all the way up to Jacksonville’s pick at number seven. Seen by most as the second best corner in this year’s class to Louisiana State’s Morris Claiborne, the 6’2” 186 pound 22 year old is just as adept and can have an immediate impact if placed into the right situation.
Kirkpatrick is one of the best (if not actually the best) zone corners to come out in years and is far and away the best tackler at the position of all incoming rookies this season. As the Rivals.com top cornerback coming out of Gadsden High in Gadsden, Alabama in 2008, he picked the Crimson Tide over many other top-tier programs and was a part of two National Championship teams there (‘09, ’11). In 2009, as a true freshman, Kirkpatrick saw the field mainly on the special teams units – excelling in his role as a gunner on punt coverage, which continued throughout the duration of his career with the Crimson Tide. During the following spring, he was able to earn himself a starting role in the ‘Bama secondary where he started all thirteen games at corner and had his best statistical year as a collegiate with 53 tackles, seven pass break-ups, and three interceptions. He maintained his starting role throughout his tenure at the university, racking up 30 tackles and nine pass break-ups in his third and final year.
At the scouting combine in February Kirkpatrick recorded a 4.51 second forty-yard dash, indicating his good-but-not-great speed. Shortly prior, in January of this year, he was arrested for marijuana possession in Florida but the charges were dropped shortly after when it was determined that he had no knowledge of the driver’s possession. Still, his involvement in this incident has raised some character and decision-making concerns amongst scouts and other player evaluators.
WHY BUFFALO SHOULD TAKE HIM
Make no bones about it, the Bills’ secondary is not the incredible strength that it was during the tenure of Dick Jauron and Perry Fewell. The cornerback situation is not good, with the aging Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence penciled in as starters. Behind them are promising youngsters Aaron Williams and Justin Rogers as well as a massive disappointment to this point in former first rounder Leodis McKelvin. McKelvin has been rumored to be an available commodity if anyone is willing to trade for him and could possibly be dealt during the draft. In any event, neither Williams nor Rogers are ready to start just yet and the two in front of them are not anything to write home about. Florence is a shell of what he used to be in coverage and often gets frustrated with that, causing him to make boneheaded plays which draw flags, while McGee has played only fifteen games in the past two years. As a matter of fact, McGee has only ever played one complete season which came in his sophomore year. The team was interested in cutting ties with him last offseason and held on to him out of need, and this year chased cover man Stanford Routt before re-negotiating McGee’s deal – again, out of necessity.
Aside from existing team issues, Kirkpatrick’s strengths relay wonderfully into the duties of a corner in Dave Wannstedt’s scheme. He has good burst and agility with very loose hips and quick feet for someone his size, which allow him great transition and recovery from his backpedal. His lengthy (31”) arms and natural ball skills allow for plenty of pass break-ups when he’s in position. On intermediate and crossing routes – favorites for the rival Jet and Patriot offenses – he sticks with his man well and does a great job in reading his assignment’s break, which gives him plenty of opportunities to plant and close on passes to make a play. At 6’2”, he’ll be one of the tallest corners in the league, and his long strides should be able to assist in covering up his lack of top-end speed. Kirkpatrick’s physicality is a huge plus when factoring his fit with the team, so much so that it’s easy to see moving to safety in the future if it was ever a necessity. He was effectively used often on corner blitzes in Alabama’s scheme and plays very well against the run, fighting through blockers with a willingness and ability to make hard hits when he makes it to the ball carrier. Though his man coverage skills are the absolute weakest part of his game, he keeps the play in front of him and on straight deep throws can usually win the battle because of his lengthy frame, solid jumping ability, and outstanding field awareness. Some scouts have described him as ‘special’ when allowed to use his physicality and instincts – oftentimes the two least-coachable aspects of a deep defender’s game.
Kirkpatrick is a very aggressive defender with great closing speed and on film, his excellent ability to seek out a quarterback’s setup and make the right read jumps out at you. He’s also been noted as having a high work ethic and a being a very vocal leader in the locker room. Nicknamed ‘Swag’ by his teammates, Dre is extremely confident and constantly looking to step up his game, in 2011 earning himself the team’s Bart Starr award which is given every spring to the most improved player. He’s also a very involved crowd motivator, which would quickly get him in favor with the rowdy fools at the Ralph.
For a kid who comes packaged with all of the intangibles, everything wrong in his game seems fixable on paper. One of his biggest knocks, and a slight area of concern, is his weight – on the large frame he possesses, Kirkpatrick is only 186 pounds, and may not have the ability to put on much more as he finished his high school career at 180 flat and didn’t develop much physically over three years on their training regimen. His thin appearance has raised questions about his durability – even though he’s never missed a game, the NFL is a different animal and if he continues his patented physical play coaches are going to want him to add more bulk. The most consistent comparison scouts draw between Kirkpatrick and current NFL players is with Antonio Cromartie, and that’s not exactly a great thing. Like Cromartie, he has great instincts and cover ability but is way too aggressive when it comes to making plays on the ball at times which can often lead to him biting on play fakes and double moves. Thankfully, though, he has the recovery speed to make up for such gaffs. While a good tackler, he has to learn to square himself more often and make better form tackles, as he likes to attack the feet or shoulder a big hit which works well against smaller college players, but will get him embarrassed and benched quickly with the big boys.
Overall, Kirkpatrick has the ability to start from the jump and though he would be a good pickup for Buffalo, their current selection may be too high for his value. He’d be an immediate upgrade over what we currently have and would have a good development cushion in the early going with the pressure Wannstedt’s front looks to generate. I don’t think his marijuana arrest/non arrest deal is worth even mentioning as far as a character concern, but accounts that Nick Saban had to work over the past three years to keep Dre motivated is something of a red flag when you’re counting on someone to be your top guy. If Buddy Nix trades back from the tenth selection, and that is starting to look like more and more of a possibility, then Kirkpatrick may be their guy. At ten, there should be better players on the board, but if you can get a player of Kirkpatrick’s caliber and pick up an extra draft choice or two, you’re still doing just fine.