The Claiborne Effect: What ‘Pick 6’ Does for Dallas’ Defense

I know not who. I know only the BTB community created a nickname that seems a manifest destiny for Morris Claiborne. In the 2012 Draft, the Dallas Cowboys unexpectedly traded up to ‘Pick 6' to get a chance at the (frankly) undisputed "best defensive player in the class." Many terms will be thrown out in the coming days, weeks, months...years, about the talented defensive back from LSU. Phrases like blue chip; shutdown; lockdown; perhaps even statements ending with "since Deion Sanders." The truth of the matter is the Cowboys traded their second round pick, squandering an opportunity to come away with three or more players in the first two days of the draft, but in return drafted an immediate starter with the upside to one day become one of the best at his position. A position which has also been a major weakness for the Cowboys the past couple of years. The trade to move up for Claiborne will be debated for a while, but suddenly the Cowboys found a ballhawk for the secondary. Someone who can make plays and change the momentum of a game with something as spectacular as a ‘Pick 6.'

There is too much to say about what the addition of Claiborne means for the Dallas Cowboys. The loss of the 2nd round pick aside, the greatest flaw of the Cowboys defense, perhaps the team, got a solid blood transfusion this offseason. In fact, it already appears that the Jason Garrett regime has taken the two most withered aspects of the Cowboys and invigorated them with youth and talent. The problems are not yet fixed. But when you look at the process in place, the offensive-line and the secondary are completely revamped from when Garrett took over the team as interim. Suddenly they present more hope than fear. Suddenly, they aren't filled will aging veterans making big money while surpassing their prime. Suddenly, there are players with upside potential competing for starting roles to replace those that may not reach their potential.

But back to Pick 6, Morris Claiborne...

The excitement over such a physical talent at corner should not be overlooked. All hype aside, when you have someone that is so naturally gifted that he can matchup to most all NFL peers in speed and strength, then even as a rookie they can play against the big boys in the NFL. The added benefit to getting a rookie blue chipper at the corner position is the fact that his simplest assignment is the most vital to Rob Ryan's defensive schemes. Even if the complexity of NFL offenses and memorizing Ryan's organized chaos proves too much for him to handle his rookie season, you can tell him the jersey number of the receiver you want him to cover and he'll be in his hip pocket all day. Even before he grooms/grows into the most overall player he can become, blanketing man-coverage that gets called "shutdown" is what comes naturally to a kid like Claiborne.

Even in the most objective (pessimistic) analysis: Let's call both safeties (Brodney Pool & Gerald Sensabaugh) average. If we then consider both Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick average and Brandon Carr above average, we can begin to see what the addition of a player like Pick 6 can do for the defense.

Not to make assumptions about the results of a competition that has yet to occur, but if Claiborne and Carr win the starting spots after the (hopefully) heated competition at Camp Garrett (cupcakes not included), here are some examples of what Ryan's defense can now accomplish:

Base 3-4

Ryan points to which hip pocket Pick 6 should hide. That leaves Carr on the second receiver with one safety playing overtop and the other safety covering the TE. Sean Lee and Dan Conner or Bruce Carter have cover/blitz options depending on the HB and FB assignments. If Ryan can consistently trust these five/six players to cover four/five "receivers," it would allow eight defenders to stack the box against the run or five pass rushers to attack the five offensive-linemen. DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff love those odds. It almost seems too easy, but remember, this is predicated on a corner like Pick 6 who you can trust (hope) to cover a receiver anywhere on the field.

Base "Nickel"

Ryan isn't sure if the offense is trying to spread him out so they can run up the gut or if they are going to throw. So in this Nickel, he leaves in all three linemen and substitutes a linebacker with Scandrick (though he could easily sub a DL instead and play Spencer or Ware with their hand on the ground). Scandrick lines up in the slot and has the underneath coverage with Carr dropping into deep zone coverage overtop. The safety on that side will cover mid-deep, effectively creating a triangle of coverage against two receivers. On the other side of the field Pick 6 is manned-up on the third receiver, which leaves Lee and the other safety with their TE and RB options. Again, with no WR in single coverage other than the one blanketed by Pick 6, the Cowboys would still have five rushers against five blockers. They could fill every gap against the run and/or get after the quarterback without facing a double team.

Base "Dime"

Ware, Ratliff, and Hatcher (or Lissemore) line up with their hands on the ground and Spencer stands up on the edge and will run a stunt with Hatcher, while Lee maintains his option on the RB. Ryan replaces a DL and LB with two DBs. Assuming the offense lines up with four WRs and a RB, Scandrick, Carr and a safety again create their zone triangle versus two WRs on one side, while on the other Jenkins and a safety double the outside receiver with Pick 6 manning the slot WR. In this scenario, five linemen must block four rushers (again advantage for Ware or Ratliff) and the only wide receiver covered by a lone defender is blanketed by Pick 6. Assuming you trust Carr in man-coverage, suddenly, Scandrick or a safety can cause issues in the backfield.

Claiborne is still a rookie and hasn't seen a single snap on an NFL field, so it may seem too early to speculate and certainly too early to call him the savior of the Cowboys defense. However, given the situation and circumstances surrounding the Cowboys Ryan defense and the kid's ability and talent on display in college and the combine - enough to make him the most coveted defensive player in the 2012 draft - it's safe to think he can be an integral part of this defense even as a rookie. The future suddenly appears promising for the Cowboys secondary AND the pass-rush. I think a 2nd round pick was certainly worth Pick 6.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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