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

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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