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Predicting Cowboys’ Award Winners in 2013

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At Bleacher Report, I broke down my choices for the Cowboys’ 2013 MVP, Rookie of the Year, and more.

Most Improved Player

There are a lot of candidates for “Most Improved Player” just because the Cowboys had so many underachievers and injured players in 2012: Doug Free, Tyron Smith,DeMarco Murray, Jay Ratliff, and the list goes on.

I’m going with second-year man Morris Claiborne. The cornerback’s rookie season was plagued by a few poor performances, most notably the Eagles game in which he committed five penalties. The truth is that Claiborne was actually pretty good last year, but his traditional stats don’t show it. Claiborne allowed 48 catches for 571 yards on 69 attempts (subscription required), or 8.28 YPA, and generated just one interception.

However, Claiborne’s numbers were down because quarterbacks didn’t target him all that much. Claiborne’s 69 targets represent just over four per game. In comparison, veteran Brandon Carr was targeted 87 times on the year.

If we look at yards per route—the number of yards Claiborne allowed for every snap he was in coverage—his total of 1.14 ranks him as a low-end No. 1 cornerback. That advanced stat suggests that Claiborne was already better as a rookie than most think. With more targets and a switch to Monte Kiffin’s cornerback-friendly defense, Claiborne’s interception total will soar in 2013.

WINNER: Morris Claiborne

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