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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys Draft LSU Cornerback Morris Claiborne in First: Scouting Report, Highlights

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Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys gave up their first and second-round selections to move up to No. 6 overall for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.  A couple thoughts:

  • Even though I love Morris Claiborne, losing the second-rounder is costly.  I’m indifferent right now because I really do love Claiborne.  He was No. 5 overall on my Big Board.
  • What will the Cowboys do now in the secondary?  Brandon Carr and Claiborne play outside, which means Mike Jenkins will need to move into the slot.  Could the team look to trade Jenkins?  He has some value going into the final year of his contract, and no one is going to be trading for Orlando Scandrick.  If Jenkins stays, the ‘Boys would be paying $27 million to a fourth cornerback.

Nonetheless, the Cowboys secured a play-making cornerback who has the potential to be a difference-maker on defense.  I did a scouting report on Claiborne early in the draft process, and I really studied a lot of his film.  Here’s what I had to say:

At 6-0, 185 pounds, Claiborne (#17) has pretty good size.  He could stand to add some bulk to his frame; his strength is only average.  Despite being lean, Claiborne is not afraid to stick his nose in the running game (see the 29-second mark in the first video below).  Claiborne won’t be doing a lot of sideline-to-sideline chasing, as in that clip against Cam Newton, but it shows his athleticism and willingness to tackle.

There is a difference between being willing to tackle and doing it efficiently, and Claiborne is the perfect example.  He misses a lot of tackles because of poor technique.  Although tackling form can be coached, a desire to tackle cannot.  Claiborne will improve at bringing down ball-carriers in the N.F.L.

In the passing game, Claiborne excels at using his body to wall off receivers. On deep balls, Claiborne “boxes out” receivers, all while turning his head to locate the football and avoid pass interference.  His awareness of the receiver’s location is uncanny.

One of the reasons Claiborne plays the deep ball so well is that he’s adept at flipping his hips.  The fluidity he displays from his backpedal to a turn-and-run position is outstanding.  Claiborne’s quick hips allow him to let receivers eat up his cushion before he turns to run if they go deep.  In turn, Claiborne can then squat on routes like comebacks and curls, knowing he has the quickness to recover if the receiver reaches his hip.

You can see an example of Claiborne’s deep ball technique at the 4:01 mark in the video above.  From an off position, he lets the receiver eat up his cushion before flipping his hips, running stride for stride, turning to locate the football and making the interception.  That’s an elite play.

Claiborne is versatile; he’s sharp in both press and off coverage.  He seems most comfortable at the line, however, where he can use his long arms to disrupt receivers as they try to get into their routes.  In the N.F.L., Claiborne will need to limit contact after five yards.  In college, he was physical with receivers well into their routes.  In the pros, that will be flagged, so expect Claiborne to see his fair share of penalties early in the 2012 season.

Claiborne is at his best in zone coverage.  He has a really solid understanding of zone concepts and spacing.  He is constantly coming off his receiver in zone to make plays, all while maintaining his responsibility.  You can see an example of this at the 8-second mark in the Oregon game.  Claiborne is in Cover 2 and recognizes an out-breaking route very early, coming off the receiver already in his zone to get into position for a big hit.  He does this multiple times a game, which is why he will excel in a zone-heavy defense in the pros.

Claiborne’s route recognition is the best of any cornerback I have studied thus far in the 2012 class.  You can see that during the last play in the video below.

In the clip, Claiborne appears to be in either Cover 2 or Cover 2 man under (both of which give him safety help over the top).  A lot of cornerbacks would play over top of the receiver in that situation, but Claiborne knows he has deep help, so he squats on the route.  Claiborne’s intelligence, grasp of defensive schemes and route recognition translate to a pick-six.

At this point, his biggest weakness is his coverage of in-breaking routes (like slants, digs and so on).  On these routes, he often finds himself on his heels, incapable of breaking quickly on the ball.  Note that on almost all such routes, Claiborne would only follow the receiver in man coverage.  Again, he has a chance to excel for a team that plays primarily zone.

The Cowboys play more man coverage than most teams, and that isn’t Claiborne’s strength.  That’s not to say he’s poor, because he’s the top overall cornerback in this class.  He simply is dominant in zone, but he has the hips to play any scheme.  His long frame will come in handy at the line in press coverage, and like I said above, he doesn’t get beat deep.  Along with Carr, the ‘Boys suddenly because dominant at cornerback.

More to come in a bit.

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7 Responses to Dallas Cowboys Draft LSU Cornerback Morris Claiborne in First: Scouting Report, Highlights

  1. Tom says:

    I’m still in shock that Dallas was able to land Claiborne. In fact I was so sure we had no chance of getting him, that I really never thought about it as a realistic option and was just hoping we could get Gilmore if Dallas went for a CB in the 1st rd.

    Really a stroke of luck that TB swapped picks with JAX and left that small window of opportunity for Dallas to strike a deal with Jerry’s buddy Jeff Fisher @ the #6 spot. I guess some people might feel giving up #45 was too much, but I do not. Claiborne is a shut down caliber CB. These guys do not come along very often and being able to draft one, rather than overpay in FA for a guy with some wear and tear, is priceless.

    Franchise QB’s, Pro-Bowl quality LT’s and shut down CB’s are 3 types of players you should never pass up a chance to obtain. I think in the long run, Dallas will look back at this as a real bargain, as long as Claiborne is able to reach his ceiling.

    The odd man out will be probably be Jenkins. He teased us with his talent in 2009, but since then he’s either been injured or just not played well. Either way, his inconsistent play was depressing.
    I
    ‘m glad the Cowboys will not have to decide whether or not to sign him to a substantial 2nd contract now. Claiborne should be an upgrade.

  2. moses says:

    I like Claiborne. He went pretty much where I would expect, but giving up a 2nd rounder is a high cost. You expect stars out of 1st and 2nd rounders, but at least get solid starters out of the 2nd rounder.

    Let’s face it. The Cowboys are hit and miss with the draft and sometimes draft like a fan would draft and not a smart GM and head coach.

  3. Tom–I actually debated doing a scouting report on Claiborne because I didn’t think he was a legit option for the ‘Boys..pretty glad I did now! Hearing the Cowboys are shopping Jenkins already.

  4. Moses–It is a big cost, but you get an elite player…tough call on whether you’d rather have a guy like Ingram or Decastro AND a second-rounder or just Claiborne. Claiborne and Carr is exciting, though.

  5. john coleman says:

    I would be against this in almost any situation. However, I will have to go with the scouts, staff, and almost all the pundits. We clearly got a great value in arguably the best defensive player in the draft. Also I think the 2nd rdr is actually cheap considering the value. Now we have a position of strength in what was a weakness.

    As far as shopping Jenkins, now is the time. A starting CB, with former Probowl credentials should be worth a 3rd for sure. However, I would not give him away. I think if we check Scandricks contract there is a low number either this year or next. He’s actually the odd man out IMO. Jenkins was arguably our best CB last season and might more valuable to the Cowboys. With our new additions, regardless of who they keep, the CB position is stronger.

  6. Vince_Grey says:

    Okay, I have mixed emotions about this. First, I’ve made my feelings well known about drafting DB’s, especially CB’s, in the top ten, because even if they’re great, they simply don’t affect the game as much as a QB, or top OT, or elite pass rusher. Think I’m wrong? Well, the Jets had Revis, the current and recent past “gold standard” of NFL CB’s, and how did the Jet’s do? 8-8, same as us. And, the Jets gave up more points than we did!

    STILL not convinced? Okay, who played CB for the Giants last season? How about the Pats?

    And then there’s the fact that the Cowboy’s record of drafting DB’s in the top ten is dubious at best. Anyone here willing to say that if Claiborne has a career like Newman’s or Roy Williams, that’s good enough for the #6 pick?

    OTOH, going all the way from 14 to 6 and only giving up a mid-round 2nd is relatively cheap IMO. When I first saw the trade, I was really scared we had given up either several picks or next year’s 1st.

    So, while I’m not all that happy with the player selected, I have zero problem with the price paid and actually think they got out rather cheap.

    I’m pretty much good with the rest of the draft, other than Hanna is kind of a wimpy softie for a 250 pound TE.

    Overall, B+ for me.

  7. JC–The cost of moving up was very low, and no doubt Claiborne is an elite player and the best defensive one in this class, IMO. I wouldn’t move Jenkins for less than a 2nd.

    Vince–Long time no talk. I don’t think the Cowboys’ lack of success with early DBs should alter their current choices because the sample size is much too small. Did you see my article at DallasCowboys.com though? http://www.dallascowboys.com/news/running_numbers.cfm

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