The Patriots don't necessarily have to get aggressive for a cornerback in the draft. If they believe Devin McCourty can bounce back from a down year, the cornerback position will be much improved by default, and that would also provide a sizeable lift for the defense.
However, this draft class has some high-end talent at the position, and the Patriots will have an opportunity to take one of the better cornerbacks off the board. Depending how that shakes out, it might be Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick is the focus of the 16th installment of a 26-day series that will highlight draft prospects who could land with the Patriots at the end of April. Maybe the prospect fits perfectly in the range of their 27th and 31st picks. Maybe he's intriguing enough for them to make a rare move up the board. Or maybe it's a player who could be available in the mid-30s, causing the Patriots to, gasp, trade down.
The 6-foot-2, 186-pounder had 29 tackles, nine pass defenses and no interceptions in 2011.
Why the Patriots Would Want Him
Kirkpatrick is a big, physical cornerback with shutdown skills. He's got elite man-coverage ability, plays with confidence and hits hard.
Why the Patriots Might Stay Away
Kirkpatrick has very little zone experience, so he might not be a great fit for the Patriots' scheme. There are also reports that Alabama head coach Nick Saban had to work hard to keep Kirkpatrick motivated, so that's a concern. If that's the only issue, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick should be able to get the honest truth from Saban about the talented corner.
Potential Impact in 2012
Kirkpatrick would compete with Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore for a starting job at cornerback. Due to his proficiency at man coverage, Kirkpatrick might also be a weapon in the slot, perhaps against tight ends due to his size and physicality.
Likelihood Kirkpatrick Is Available at No. 27
It depends how teams perceive Kirkpatrick's work ethic. If the character concerns check out, he'll be long gone before the Patriots have a chance to select him. Teams that could select Kirkpatrick due to a high need at cornerback include the Cowboys (No. 14), Bengals (Nos. 17 and 21), Titans (No. 20) and Lions (No. 23).
Each day in April, NESN.com will spotlight a player the Patriots could take with one of their first-round picks.
Tuesday: Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy
Photo via Facebook/Dre Kirkpatrick