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Running the Numbers: Why Morris Claiborne Will Be a True No. 1 CB in 2013

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At DallasCowboys.com, I explained why Morris Claiborne will be a lockdown cornerback in 2013:

1. Claiborne was already pretty good in 2012.

A few weeks ago, I labeled Claiborne as one of my breakout players. The primary reason is that he actually played pretty well as a rookie in regards to the stats that predict future success. Whether it was due to his own struggles or former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s scheme, Claiborne didn’t make the big plays everyone anticipated. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t cover well:

“When analyzing cornerbacks, I like to look at yards per route. That metric doesn’t penalize cornerbacks for having good coverage. If they aren’t targeted on a particular play, they’re rewarded for good coverage. Claiborne actually ranked in the top 25 in the NFL in yards allowed if we take into account all of the snaps he was in coverage. That suggests that Claiborne, despite hauling in just one interception, played as a low-end No. 1 cornerback in his rookie season. As the targets increase, so will the picks.”

Claiborne was targeted only 69 times as a rookie, 18 fewer than veteran Brandon Carr. That’s a good sign and suggests Claiborne was in proper position most of the time.

2. He’s going to play more zone coverage.

Fair or not, Claiborne will be judged on his ability to secure interceptions in 2013. With a year of experience and a shift in defensive philosophy, he should be able to deliver. The Cowboys are going to play a lot more zone coverage this year than they did under Ryan, meaning Claiborne will be able to read the quarterback more often as opposed to having his back turned to the passer while running with his man. Zone cornerbacks have historically been able to make far more plays than those who play primarily man coverage for just this reason.

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