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Running the Numbers: Will Morris Claiborne Make an Instant Impact?

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Jonathan Bales

We all know Morris Claiborne will be an outstanding NFL player, but the question is how soon he can make an impact in Dallas. Despite a poor 2011 season, the Cowboys are still in a position to win now. How much of an upgrade will Morris Claiborne really be over Terence Newman during his rookie season? I attempted to break it down statistically at DallasCowboys.com:

Since 2000, there have been eight cornerbacks selected in the top 10 picks: Quentin Jammer, Patrick Peterson, Terence Newman, Pacman Jones, Joe Haden, DeAngelo Hall, Carlos Rogers, and Dunta Robinson. Only Pacman Jones was a bust, and that had nothing to do with his on-field talent. As a rookie, Pacman was actually already one of the league’s better cornerbacks. In their rookie campaigns, those 10 players averaged 2.75 interceptions and 53 tackles.

As an explosive, physical cornerback, I think you’ll see Clairborne exceed those figures in his rookie year. He’ll certainly be tested early in the season, giving him an opportunity to make some plays. As an initial projection, I think around 60 tackles and four interceptions are what we’re looking at from Claiborne.

With an average AV of 6.6 from top 10 cornerbacks in their first years, I think a projection of a 7.5 AV for Claiborne is pretty accurate. Interestingly, that’s actually Newman’s career AV-per-season. While it’s easy to remember Newman’s 2011 struggles, don’t forget he was a really good cornerback for a long time in Big D. If the Cowboys can get Claiborne to match Newman’s career average production in just his rookie season, they would have to be happy with that.

You can read the entire post here. Let’s not forget that Claiborne was the best defensive player in the draft and one of the top cornerbacks to come into the NFL in years. I posted an extensive scouting report on Claiborne prior to the draft.

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. 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.

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.

Ultimately, I think if the Cowboys can get decent play from Claiborne in 2012, they’ll be fine in the secondary. Brandon Carr could be elite on the other side and Gerald Sensabaugh is still an underrated player, so it will really come down to whoever is manning the other safety position.

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