The Cincinnati Bengals have invested three first-round picks in cornerbacks over the past five years. In other words, the team is serious about fielding a top-notch secondary.
Given that the Bengals need to get by top-notch passers like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck to become the AFC’s Super Bowl representative, that makes sense.
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, they haven’t gotten much of any return yet from their three young corners.
Dre Kirkpatrick, a 2012 draftee, became a regular starter for the first time last season and, for the most part, struggled. Darqueze Dennard, a 2014 first-rounder, has made a few big plays in limited action, but injuries and a crowded depth chart have limited his playing time.
Dennard’s currently dealing with an “ankle tweak.” That’s not necessarily anything to worry about, but Cincinnati would certainly prefer the young player getting all the practice reps he can handle.
A tweaked ankle for Dennard alone wouldn’t be cause for concern, but Dennard’s teammate and fellow defensive back, William Jackson III, is dealing with a torn pectoral muscle. That injury could cost Jackson, Cincinnati’s most recent first-round pick, all of his rookie season.
Now, Jackson wasn’t set to play all that much to begin with, but his loss will certainly test Cincinnati’s defensive depth. That said, let’s take a look at a few guys in free agency who could help bolster the bottom of the Bengals’ cornerback depth chart.
Easily the biggest name you’ll find on this list of available options is that of Antonio Cromartie. But, though he has Pro Bowls on his resume, Cromartie is far from the player he was once. For the Bengals, that’s OK. They’re just looking for solid, veteran depth.
Cromartie’s return to the New York Jets in 2015 didn’t turn out to be anything near the blockbuster it once seemed like. In fact, Pro Football Focus graded him out to be one of the league’s worst cover-men in ’15. That said, it was just the year before that he was excelling in Arizona.
At 32, Cromartie’s young enough to offer solid contributions to a team. If his extended stay in free agency has humbled him enough to accept a modest deal, then he’s a guy the Bengals should pounce on.
Cortez Allen is among the more interesting cornerbacks still on the open market. Allen’s a once-promising player who broke out in 2012 with the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The game that seemed to foreshadow his imminent breakout actually came against Cincinnati. Allen picked off Andy Dalton twice and also forced an A.J. Green fumble in that showdown.
His promise earned him a handsome contract extension, but it’s one he never lived up to. The Citadel product spent the past few seasons struggling through both injuries and poor play. Cincinnati knows Allen as well as anyone outside of Pittsburgh. If the Bengals think the 27-year-old has a shot to revive his career then he could be worth kicking the tires on.
Chris Culliver is cut from a similar cloth as Cortez Allen. Like Allen, Culliver played a key role for his first squad - the San Francisco 49ers. The thing is, the fact that those 49ers’ teams fielded great defenses inflated his value on the open market. Culliver inked a deal with the Redskins that had him set to earn $32 million over four seasons.
Instead, Culliver got torched in his first six games in Washington before going down with a torn ACL and MCL. As you might imagine, that sort of catastrophic season has put a damper on Culliver’s free agent value. At 27, though, the big cornerback has enough time left to rebound. And playing behind the Bengals’ imposing front seven might be just what he needs to return to form.