There is still some divide on whether the move to trade up and get LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne in the 2012 NFL Draft was worth it. The Dallas Cowboys moved up eight spots to secure Claiborne while only surrendering a second-round draft pick. We've discussed in serious detail whether the war room made out on their trade down in the 2013 draft, but the Cowboys got a tremendous value last year to slingshot up the board to land their No. 2 rated player.
In Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense, the secondary started off the season well. In Claiborne's first regular season game, he didn't look lost or out of place. Hakeem Nicks was not full strength in that game, however it isn't a stretch to say he'd still have the edge over the rookie. School was not in session that day.
Throughout the season, the Cowboys' defense suffered injuries that depleted their ranks, placing more pressure on the secondary. The patchwork unit Ryan worked with forced him to dial back on blitzes and what he could do with his corners. There were times where Claiborne struggled, but I can't sit here and say his rookie season was a disaster, because it wasn't. It doesn't matter what his metrics or Pro Football Focus grade were, in my opinion he wasn't that bad.
Maybe 55 tackles, one interception, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumbles doesn't exactly pop off the page, but Claiborne didn't get the opportunities to force turnovers. One of the selling points of the new 4-3 defense Dallas is moving to places our cornerbacks in the position to make plays on the football.
After all, Claiborne was a terror in college and forced 11 interceptions during his two seasons as a starting cornerback in the SEC. He has the ability and ball skills to thrive as a playmaker.
This is one of the best college cornerbacks I have ever seen, the game comes easy to him and he's off-the-charts in the coverage department. He isn't Darrelle Revis, but he does have the similar ability to mirror a wide receiver and take him out of the game.
Moving on, let's focus on time and experience. Claiborne missed some valuable time before his rookie season recovering from wrist surgery, followed by a sprained MCL which set him back further. Having a year of NFL experience will ultimately help him become a more complete player, but also having the benefit of practicing and accepting the teaching from Jerome Henderson and Monte Kiffin is going to go a long way in Claiborne's development.
Henderson agrees that having his young cornerback actively involved this offseason will be vital in preparing for the 2013 season.
"Having him in the offseason is huge, because he didn't get an offseason last year to train and get stronger," he said. "We didn't really get him until training camp. So I'm excited for him to work on his body and get stronger and bigger. He had to do that to get to the level that we expect him to play at. So he's doing that work to get stronger and bigger and faster, and you come out here and see him move around really well. I'm excited for his upside."
Another determining factor in Mo's possible breakout season could be his added strength. It was news when Claiborne confirmed that he beefed up six pounds from 187 to 193, but believe it or not his defensive coordinator actually doesn't want Morris to get too carried away with the weight.
"You want guys to work out year-round and lift weights but I’m not looking for Mo Claiborne to be some 225-pounder or something like that," Kiffin said after organized team activities on Tuesday. "Just use his speed, that’s all I care about. They’ll tackle. But it’s about your strength and conditioning."
While it's great to see him take the initiative on his own accord to beef up and become stronger, Mo needs to remember that Kiffin's defense has always valued quickness and speed. Don't get me wrong, cornerbacks must be able to get dirty and tackle. Honestly Claiborne can really improve in that area, but at the end of the day let's worry about him forcing turnovers and excelling in coverage.
With so many stories to follow in Dallas, Mo has somewhat fallen under the radar. This team has a lot of young talent, but I believe the Cowboys have a special player who can become a game changer on defense. Only time will tell if Claiborne is going to be dominant NFL player, but I believe he is going thrive in the new scheme and become an important piece of the puzzle.
Players like this don't come a long very often, and Dallas has a very special football player waiting in the wings to take over and show the world that he was worth the investment that Jerry Jones made back in the 2012 draft.
So BTB, is Claiborne ready to take the next step and elevate his game to the next level? Have at it in the comment section and tell us your opinion.