New England Patriots: Could Dre Kirkpatrick Follow Aaron Hernandez's Path?

Drew BonifantAnalyst IIFebruary 23, 2012

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 05:  Dre Kirkpatrick #21 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts next to  Rueben Randle #2 of the LSU Tigers during the second half of the game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 5, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It took little more than a week for Dre Kirkpatrick's fortunes to change.

On Jan. 9, the highly-touted cornerback was a national champion and sure-fire first-round pick. On Jan. 17, he was arrested, having been charged with marijuana possession and subjected to national scrutiny.

The charges were eventually dropped, but the word "marijuana" is still next to his name. At a time when a player should be impressing professional scouts and coaches, that word is poison. Now the player originally expected to be the first defensive back taken is expected to go, well, anywhere.

He could go high. He could go later. He could go much later, as in, according to Bleacher Report draft writer Matt Miller, the second round.

With so much unpredictability in Kirkpatrick's stock, the corner is in range for the Patriots to be interested. With two first-round picks—the 27th and 31st overall selections—New England could be able to move up to take him. They could even be able to get him staying put.

The Patriots can look at their thin cornerback rotation for a reason to seek this player. As for Kirkpatrick's recent off-field concerns, the Patriots can look to their roster for a reason to ease any worries about that as well.

The Patriots went down this road, very recently, with Aaron Hernandez.

Hernandez was a successful tight end and target for Tim Tebow at Florida and was destined to be a first- or second-round pick. But positive tests for marijuana raised red flags, and as a result, draft day was a bust for the former Gator. He fell through the first, second and even third rounds and didn't hear his name called until the Patriots, who were eying him the whole time, took him in the fourth round at 113th overall.

Two years later, Hernandez is a versatile weapon, Pro Bowl talent and one of the biggest steals in the league. The Patriots made out like bandits the first time. If Kirkpatrick's fall is harder than he's expecting, New England will have a chance to do it again.

There's no doubt that the Patriots can use the player. Their cornerback depth going into 2012 ranges from talent-rich to bare. At best, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and 33rd overall pick Ras-I Dowling give New England a skilled trio. At worst, McCourty's move to safety is permanent, Dowling's injury problems are real and Arrington, good but no Darrelle Revis, is the only sure option at the position.

Meanwhile, Kirkpatrick offers an excellent physical package. He fits the mold of tough corners that New England has treasured and is the sort of explosive athlete that the Patriots have struggled to land in their secondary. He is a top-10 talent, after all.

And he could be in New England's neighborhood on the draft board. If Kirkpatrick is unaffected in the long run by his arrest (and a solid combine performance can help there), there's nothing the Patriots can do. They won't be able to move that high up, armed though they may be with high picks, and even if they could, it wouldn't be the prudent move.

But if Kirkpatrick starts to slip? Then the Patriots really should consider him. This sort of move has paid off before. New England can come away with an impact player if they try that idea again.