With two picks in the first round of the 2012 draft, the route in which the Cincinnati Bengals will take when the clock begins to tick continues to divide opinion.
Despite contrasting viewpoints, one thing remains fairly consistent among the various mock drafts doing the rounds. That consensus surrounds the Alabama Crimson Tide, and the very real possibility that some of the freshly crowned BCS champions will be available when Cincy makes their move.
Trent Richardson continues to be labeled as the No.1 running back in April's draft, and rightly so. He's an extremely promising prospect, with substantial upside. However, the likelihood that he falls to No.17 remains bleak despite Mark Ingram's slide last year.
So while Marvin Lewis will likely take a long look at Richardson if and when he becomes available at No.17, there are other members of the Crimson Tide with first-round talent who could fall as far as Cincy.
The two guys in question are safety Mark Barron and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
The Bengals are widely acknowledged as needing help in the secondary and either one of these two prospects would give an immediate improvement.
Mark Barron - Safety - 6'2" 215 lbs - 40 Time: 4.56
Barron has an excellent combination of size and speed, despite having somewhat stiff hips. He's a real ball-hawk with great QB reading ability and strong instinctual play. He is at his best in the box but isn't bad in coverage. He can't dance with runners, and tries to lay the big hit rather than wrap up the tackle, resulting in blockbuster hits or embarrassing misses—there really isn't much in between.
It has been reported that Barron will miss the NFL Combine with a double sports hernia that will likely see him miss training camp wherever he is drafted. This could potentially affect his draft stock and up the chances he is around when the Bengals come to choose.
With Chris Crocker still under contract and Reggie Nelson expected to be re-signed, Lewis could still take an injured Barron if the potential remains intact after his recovery. He would likely sit behind Crocker initially, who will be playing out what is likely his final year under contract.
Dre Kirkpatrick - Corner - 6'2" 190 lbs - 40 Time: 4.49
After Morris Claiborne, Kirkpatrick will be the best corner left in the draft. Some have him pegged as a Dallas Cowboy at No.14, but with his recent arrest doing some damage to his image it wouldn't be surprising if Jerry Jones steers clear of another potential Dez Bryant joining the ranks.
Kirkpatrick is an extremely physical guy and has benefited from the pro-style defense under Nick Saban. He's a strong guy who can more than handle receivers and running backs, using his big shoulders on the outside to force ball carriers out of bounds. He is also not afraid to mix it up with the bigger guys also. He's a real threat to strip the ball and as a result is a constant threat to cause turnovers. He's great in man coverage and capable in zone too.
With Leon Hall's return to health still far off, the Bengals will need to add depth at corner via the draft or through free agency. If a prospect like Kirkpatrick fell to them, I would be blown away if Lewis didn't select him.
The likelihood is that Kirkpatrick will be long gone by the time the Bengals come to pick, but stranger things have happened. There are a number of corners floating around at the bottom of the first round and the next few months could see movement either way.
So while fans continue to pray that Trent Richardson dons stripes in 2012, Lewis and Mike Zimmer will likely be eyeing up the more feasible prospect of adding one of these two BCS champions to their secondary.
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