So, after spending days and countless hours mulling over the Cowboys' various draft options, they made the trade that none of us saw coming (well, O.C.C. did, but that doesn't count; he's a computer). The result: the consensus top defensive player in the draft. The cost: a second round pick, 45th overall. While not having a second rounder may sting a little tomorrow evening, when we watch players we like come off the board at an agonizing pace, here are a couple of factoids to help ease any pain you may feel:
- The Cowboys got value in the trade. The draft pick value calculator shows that they paid 1550 points (14 + 45) for 1600 points (6). Further, the chart suggests that such a move up should have cost Dallas their fourth rounder in addition to the second they gave up. Clearly, the Rams wanted to trade out, and were willing to take lesser value than their pick was worth do do so.
- As Jason Garrett mentioned in the press conference after the pick, Claiborne was the second-rated player on their board. Lest you think the Cowboys braintrust is daft, know that he's also the second-rated player on Wes Bunting's and Nolan Nawrocki's boards. And I'd bet that he's the second-rated dude on many teams' boards as well. PFT reported yesterday that he was #1 on the Vikings' board (!).
- The cardinal rule of trading up in the first round of the NFL draft is: do it only to secure a blue-chipper, the kind of player who has evident, perennial All-pro talent. Blue-chippers consistently win one-on-one matchups and keep opposing coordinators awake at night devising schemes designed to minimize that advantage. This draft had six blue-chippers, only one of whom was a defensive player: Claiborne.
So, yes, the LSU corner came at great cost. But what a rich reward! Don't believe me? Read what our panel of superscouts have to say about Claiborne's game.
Wes Bunting (National Football Post): top-rated CB, second overall:
Possesses a tall frame with a thinner physique. However, looks a lot taller than his height numbers would indicate because of his long arms. Is an aggressive corner by natural who loves to play up near the line of scrimmage, sit into his stance and press off the line. Extends his arms well into contact and can really uncork a pop when asked to re-rout. Has a tendency to get a bit overextended into contact though and will shoot with the improper hand at times off the line. However, he really can be physical off the line and can consistently disrupt the timing of opposing receivers. Showcases natural foot quickness and fluidity to his game. Is quick-footed when force to mirror laterally and despite getting a bit upright at times laterally, is quick enough to collect himself, settle his feet and close on the football.
Exhibits impressive fluidity and balance for his size when asked to flip his hips and turn to run. Demonstrates a "plus" first step, can keep his pad level down out of his breaks and really track the football. Uses his length well to be physical with receivers down the field and exhibits the coordination to quickly settle his feet and attack throws at the highest point.
Does a nice job when asked to get out of his breaks on inward breaking routes. Is patient in his drop and again, can keep his pad level down, creating a good closing burst. Stays low and routinely manages to maintain balance and undercut routes underneath. Now, when he isn't asked to press off the line he does have a tendency at times to get a bit lazy in his drop and allow his pad level to rise, taking away from his initial burst out of his breaks and giving receivers the chance to gain inside leverage. Nevertheless he does have the ability to sit into his drop and stay balanced/compact with his footwork in off/zone concepts. Showcases a good feel reading routes off the line in off man. And because of his ability to cleanly flip his hips and reach top end speed quickly, he can be patient in his drop and isn't' forced to bail out of his back-pedal prematurely.
Showcases some toughness vs. the run game. Extends his long arms well into contact, can gain leverage and disengage from defenders trying to seal him on the edge. Isn't the most physical of tacklers, but is willing to throw his body around and use his length to wrap on the play. Takes good angles when asked to drive on the football and for the most part gets his man to the ground. However, I would like to see him get a bit stronger as at times he will slip off his target.
I love his mental make-up though. Will play on special teams, not only as a talented kick return man, but also on kick coverage units as well. Is explosive down the field, takes good angles and is a tough man to outrun.
Impression: The top corner in this year's draft. He's tall and long which allows him to play big off the line. However, he showcases the footwork, balance and quick-twitch ability of a much smaller corner out of his breaks. With improved technique he should mature into one of the leagues best.
Nolan Nawrocki (Pro Football Weekly): top-rated CB; second overall:
Positives: Rare arm length (tied for longest among cornerbacks at the Combine) to hem and control receivers at the line — strong in press coverage and uses levers to reroute receivers. Maintains great positioning and is seldom out of phase — works the trail position and will bait quarterbacks. Plays on balance, can read through his man to the quarterback and attacks the ball in the air like a receiver. Has very good hands, ball skills and interception production — exceptional catching radius to extend outside his frame and snatch the ball. Is so smooth and fluid he looks like he is gliding in coverage — very good competitive playing speed (faster than he timed). Is a solid, controlled tackler in space and will work off blocks to support — leverages the edges, takes good angles and shows a sense of urgency in the run game, even forklifting smaller ballcarriers into the ground. Terrific zone eyes and awareness — passes off receivers and quickly recognizes combo routes. Versatile — has played inside and outside. Feisty and does not back down from a challenge — carries a swagger. Confident, competitive and instinctive. Has kickoff-return skill — sees the field, anticipates angles, makes subtle cuts and can go the distance. Solid personal character and work habits.
Negatives: Has small hands. Tends to rise in his pedal (very apparent in Combine drills). Did not perform like an elite athlete at the Combine (clocked multiple 4.56-second handheld 40-times and recorded only a 341⁄2-inch vertical jump). Lacks elite twitch out of his transition and could be stressed by quickness in the slot. Is not consistently physical in run support — seeks to shoestring-tackle some big backs.
Summary: A well-built, rangy, long-limbed, confident press-man cover corner with the ball skills, instincts, toughness and swagger to lock down No. 1 receivers in the pros. Makes the game look easy and should factor readily.
Gary Horton (ESPN/ Scouts, Inc.): top-rated CB; fourth overall:
Instincts/Recognition: Instincts continue to improve with more game experience. Shows confidence in press-man coverage. Displays above average awareness in zone. Confident in trail position. Will bait QBs to throw his way by keeping distance. Knows limitations and can capitalize when QBs take the bait.
Cover Skills: Has experience playing inside but spends majority time on perimeter. Can continue to improve upper-body strength and needs to become more consistent with press technique. However, he has long arms and generally does a very good job of re-routing WRs when in press. Outstanding foot quickness and fluid hips for a taller corner. Can flip his hips quickly and shows the top-end speed (even faster on tape than 40 time) to run vertically with faster SEC receivers. Shows legitimate second-gear and can gain ground when ball is in the air. Tends to get too high in backpedal, especially when playing off. But shows good burst out of his pedal and closes quickly when playing the ball thrown in front of him.
Ball Skills: Former wide receiver. Few college cornerbacks show his awareness and ability to track the ball over his shoulder. Outstanding body control. Shows ability to lay out and make diving catch. Appears confident attacking the ball and has cashed in on most opportunities. Production matches tape (11 INTs in 2010 and 2011 combined). Shows some wiggle and explosiveness after INTs. Also has shown big play ability in the return game.
Run Support: Above-average in run support for a cornerback but not as big, strong or physical as former teammate Patrick Peterson (Cardinals). Gets pushed around at times by bigger blockers and it takes him a bit too long at times to get off of blocks. But there's no question he's willing to support the run and mix it up physically. Flashes a bit of a mean streak. Will break down in space and stay under control. Attempts to wrap up most of the time but occasionally leaves his feet and puts his head down. Should continue to improve tackling skills with more experience.
Intangibles: Versatile athlete. Began career at LSU at WR but moved to CB in fall camp. Played QB, WR and DB in high school. Solid work ethic. Mature for his age. No off the field issues to our knowledge. Good mental makeup for the position.
Dan Shonka (Ourlads): top-rated CB; fifth overall:
Two-year starter who is quick to read and react to run or pass. He displays good body control with loose hips and is smooth and fluid in his movement with no wasted motion. Good ball reactions to play the ball down the field and in the air. Goes up at the high point and slaps the ball away. The top corner in the 2012 draft, he doesn't get much attention to his side of the field. Can stick his foot in the ground and close suddenly on the receiver. Takes a direct line to the point of the ball with no false steps. A competitor who plays with confidence. In press bail technique he can press and play off coverage. Quick lateral movement and change of direction. Catches the ball with soft hands (recruited as a receiver). Extends for the ball with his long arms. He knocks down catchable balls. Good adjust for a difficult interception. Good short area quickness where he can reroute receivers. Plays with good base and balance. Keeps position on the receivers. Tough minded in his play. Plays mostly man to man coverage, but will excel in zone the more work he gets. In press he plays nose to nose. Doesn't lunge or overextend. Plays square to receiver. Quick learner with good football intelligence. Good ball skills. Will undercut a route and intercept the ball. An aggressive tackler on run support. Breaks down and wraps up, but will miss a tackle now and then. He just needs to get stronger. Has experience playing receiver in the slot. Will contribute on special teams' coverage and returns.
Wow, just wow. These reports are glowing. What jumps out at me is his size and ability to play press/ man. In his pre-draft press conference, Jerry Jones made a peculiar remark about Anthony Spencer: that they needed to tweak the system in order to allow him to rush more. I wonder if collecting a stable of corners is a key part of that systemic shift - i.e., Rob Ryan can't begin to dial up an array of exotic blitzes without a pair of man corners who he feels confident he can put on an island. With Claiborne in addition to Carr, he now has those corners.
Okay, Rob, its time to get back to the lab and concoct some of those crazy blitzes.