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Cowboys Rookie Morris Claiborne: Great Expectations or Irrational Exuberance?

Morris Claiborne (17) dominated competition in college, but how will that translate to the NFL?
Morris Claiborne (17) dominated competition in college, but how will that translate to the NFL?

The Dallas Cowboys caused quite a stir in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft when they traded up from the 14th pick all the way to the sixth pick to claim Morris Claiborne.

The move left many Cowboys fans giddy with excitement. After all, that move allowed the Cowboys to pick the consensus best defensive player in the draft; the reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner, awarded annually to the best defensive back in the country; a corner the Cowboys, in their own words, had rated higher than any CB since Deion Sanders. Add $50 million free agent acquisition CB Brandon Carr to the mix, and expectations for Claiborne - and with him the whole secondary - are beginning to cross over into irrational exuberance.

Claiborne will be an immediate starter for the Cowboys, Claiborne will shut down the elite NFC East receivers, the ball-hawking Claiborne will collect at least 5 interceptions, heck, there's even talk that Claiborne will miraculously increase Anthony Spencer's sack total.

At times, it's good to keep in mind that Claiborne will be a rookie corner in the NFL. Every week in the NFL, he'll play against receivers the likes of which he may have played only once or twice per season in college. He'll face faster, more physical offenses and will have to learn a more complex defensive scheme. He'll play more games during the season, he'll have to study harder and he'll play under a much brighter spotlight as a Cowboy than he ever did as a Tiger. And it doesn't help one little bit that his wrist surgery is keeping him out of all OTAs.

For a corner, a high draft spot is not a guarantee for a breakout performance in his rookie season as well see after the break, when we review how the rookie season went for the eight corners selected in the first round in 2010 & 2011.


(Pick 5): Patrick Peterson, ARI - Four punt return TDs overshadowed what was a forgettable season as a CB, with only two interceptions and a -12.6 PFF grade that ranked him 102nd out of 109 CBs last year. Only people who watch a lot of Sportscenter think Peterson had a good first season.

(Pick 19): Prince Amukamara, NYG - Did not start a single game in 2011, as an injury limited him to spot duty and 143 snaps in six regular season games and an extra 60 snaps in the postseason.

(Pick 27): Jimmy Smith, BAL - Started off the year with an injury but slowly played his way into the starting line up. Played on 243 snaps in 12 games, started in only three.


(Pick 7): Joe Haden, CLE - Turned in a spectacular rookie season with six interceptions and 18 passes defended. He started as the nickel corner for the Browns and took the starting corner spot in week 11. Haden recorded a 50.1 defensive passer rating, the fourth best value in the league that year. All of this under the tutelage of secondary coach Jerome Henderson, who'll also be coaching Morris Claiborne.

(Pick 20): Kareem Jackson, HOU - To his credit, Jackson did start all 16 games, albeit on a defense that ranked last in the league in defensive passer rating. He had two interceptions, and a -12.8 PFF grade made him the 91st ranked CB on a list of 100 CBs in 2010.

(Pick 27): Devin McCourty, NE - McCourty started all 16 games for the Patriots and recorded seven interceptions and 17 passes defended en route to a Pro Bowl nomination in his rookie season and a second team All Pro nod.

(Pick 29): Kyle Wilson, NYJ - Wilson started six games for the Jets saw only limited action on 337 snaps playing mostly as the slot CB.

(Pick 32). Patrick Robinson, NO - Played on only 264 snaps in an injury marred rookie season. He had zero interceptions and only two passes defended in his nine appearances.

As you can see from this small cross-section of recent first-round corners, a high draft position does not automatically translate to success in the NFL.

Against this background, it's clear why the Cowboys have been reluctant to trade Mike Jenkins. The Cowboys may have rated Claiborne close to a Deion level, but they still don't know how he'll perform in an NFL environment. Also, with Ryan's versatile schemes and with opposing offenses sporting more and more three- and four WR sets, having four corners on the field at the same time will become increasingly common. Additionally, Ryan likes to rotate his corners to keep everyone fresh, so the Cowboys really do want to keep four starter-quality corners on the roster.

The Cowboys have great expectations for Morris Claiborne, just perhaps not in his rookie season. They'll likely try to ease him into the line-up and into the NFL as a part the cornerback rotation. And as much as we'd all like Claiborne to exceed Devin McCourty's stellar rookie effort, it's perhaps better to temper expectations slightly, before they cross over into irrational exuberance.

But that shouldn't stop you from going out and buying a Claiborne jersey right now. You'll be glad you have it in 2013.

What are your expectations for Mo's rookie season?


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