Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan told us he was only looking at cornerbacks this past offseason. It just made sense for the front office to pursue upgrading the secondary that has been a problem for the past couple of years. When free agency started, the Cowboys were immediately were linked to the marquee cornerbacks on the market. They never let Brandon Carr leave Dallas without a deal and locked him up to a five-year $50.1 million dollar deal. Many felt that once we signed Carr the Cowboys wouldn't address the cornerback position until the second round.
Jerry Jones made a huge splash in the 2012 NFL Draft when the Cowboys traded up for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. With the addition of Carr and Claiborne, the Cowboys now have not just one press cornerback, but two. Having lockdown capability on both sides of the field will be a major upgrade for the defense. This is a move that I stand behind one-hundred percent, but the naysayers will have some firepower to back up their argument that the Claiborne trade will not pan out.
The history of the 6th overall pick hasn't been too pretty, but I believe Claiborne will be the exception and change that.
The 6th Overall Pick
- 2011- Julio Jones WR
- 2010- Russell Okung OT
- 2009- Andre Smith OT
- 2008- Vernon Gholston LB
- 2007- LaRon Landry S
- 2006- Vernon Davis TE
- 2005- Pacman Jones CB
- 2004- Kellen Winslow TE
- 2003- Jonathan Sullivan DT
- 2002- Ryan Sims DT
Looking over that list you will notice plenty of busts. Julio Jones is well on his way to being a superstar wide receiver. Russell Okung needs to stay healthy and he could be a franchise left tackle. Vernon Davis is one of the best tight ends in football, but the rest of that list hasn't had the type of impact it should have. They are all talented players, but they just never lived up to the expectations of the 6th overall pick.
So what exactly are the expectations for a player taken that high? It may not mean making the Pro Bowl anymore since that has become one of the most overrated titles in sports. Becoming an All-Pro caliber player may be an extremely hard expectation, but most will expect Claiborne to become one.
Claiborne Is A Value
In my opinion, getting the best defensive player in the draft was a value for the Cowboys when they only surrendered the 45th overall pick in doing so. Mickey Spagnola solidifies that stance even more when he released some juicy details about how Stephen Jones handled the trade with the St. Louis Rams.
Well, as the story goes, Stephen Jones lets St. Louis know he was ready to execute the previously agreed upon deal. Then the Rams tried to pull a fast one. They wanted a second and now a fourth, or come on guys, when Stephen balked, how about a second and a fifth. Stephen Jones held strong. No, a second, a deal is a deal. The Rams finally relented, and when the trade was executed, it became obvious to all paying attention just who they were trading up for.
Okay, so the Rams did try to drive up the price on the trade. We aren't privileged to this type of information usually, so I am surprised the Cowboys leaked it to begin with, but I am glad they did. It shows exactly how important Stephen has become in the front office. If Jerry was the one overseeing the fine print in this trade, we may not have selected in the draft again until 2013. Give Jerry credit for pulling this trade off, but give Stephen credit for not overpaying.
The Cowboys didn't overpay for Claiborne, but they also landed a premier cover cornerback with ball skills. One problem this secondary has faced is a lack of turnovers and plays made on the football. Mike Jenkins is a good cover cornerback, but he rarely generates turnovers. Terence Newman actually did a decent job of generating the interceptions, but his coverage became so bad it didn't matter if Newman had 10 interceptions a year.
Claiborne is a phenomenal athlete with lockdown capability, but he is going to be a play-maker. His 11 career college interceptions came in basically two seasons, and that is impressive, but he is a threat after he gets the football in his hands. He led the nation with interception return yardage in 2011 with 173 yards. We have already dubbed him "Pick Six", but we really may see some touchdowns from him in the future.
Also consider who the Cowboys would have taken if they hadn't traded up for Claiborne. Michael Brockers most likely would have been the pick with the 14th overall selection. Melvin Ingram was on the board, but I doubt the Cowboys were going to draft him. BTB favorite David DeCastro was also available, so he could have been a possibility. In the second round, Jerry Jones did mention who the Cowboys would have taken.
Asked about that scenario following the end of the third round Friday night, Jones struggled to think of the name of the player the Cowboys liked when the 45th pick was on the board. All he seemed to remember was that it was a linebacker.
About five minutes later Jones finally came up with the name: "Wagner."
Wow, another inside linebacker. If that really was our intentions for the 45th overall pick, then I am glad we traded up for a premier cornerback. Wagner really looks like a good football player, but drafting another inside linebacker that high might have pushed me over the edge last weekend. Combine that with some fans distaste for Brockers and Cowboys fans might have stormed the Valley Ranch war room like a medieval castle.
One last thing to consider is exactly how high the Cowboys graded Claiborne. In my big board, I had him rated as the 3rd best player in the draft behind franchise quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The Cowboys apparently had him rated as their 2nd best player in the draft, but graded him out as the highest rated cornerback since Deion Sanders. If you ask me, that is an insane value.
Later this week I am going to be writing about Wagner again, but this time it will relate to Bruce Carter. Be on the lookout for that.
That is the formula we will finally put to the test this season. Over the course of the offseason, we debated the nuances of fixing this defense. One side of the room took to upgrading the pass rush, while the other side defended upgrading the secondary. It looks like the Cowboys value their pass rushers, but definitely understood they needed to bring in more cornerbacks.
Jason Garrett is a supporter of the coverage theory.
"I think it works together," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "But covering them better, you’re getting more pressure and maybe if you have a playmaking corner like Claiborne is, he can make plays on the ball and you can turn the ball over and change the game that way. So I think it all works together. No one appreciates the importance of pressure more than I do, understanding how difficult that is, but at the same time if you’re covering them well, your pressure is going to get that much better and your defense is going to get better."
We will get to see who is right, but one thing is for sure, this defense will be much improved with Claiborne roaming the secondary with Carr. The Cowboys made the right decision in moving up for the LSU cornerback. The history of the 6th overall pick may not support the move, but Claiborne isn't as risky as some of the former 6th overall picks. Obviously he is one of the best athletes in the draft, but his character is made up of the RKG qualities we look for now. Claiborne will not only bring amazing athletic ability, but he is willing to work on and off the field to achieve success.