The Dallas Cowboys held the 14th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. Every team has their draft board set, but there are certain players that they have rated so high that teams won't even bother interviewing or meeting with because the odds of actually getting an opportunity to draft them aren't very good. That is exactly why the Cowboys never met with LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.
But after a few interesting moves at the beginning of the draft, Dallas watched Claiborne fall right into their lap. The Cowboys exchanged first round picks with the St. Louis Rams and also surrendered a second round pick in order to secure the rights to draft Claiborne. Not only did they land their second-rated player in the draft, he was also at a position of need.
The secondary, particularly the cornerbacks, gave the Cowboys a lot of problems last season. Free agent addition Brandon Carr was a huge start at beginning to change the way the secondary played, but the addition of Claiborne put this secondary over the top.
Claiborne has been a great addition to the Cowboys this season. The eye test shows that Claiborne can hold up in coverage against the best in the NFL. However, rookies are going to have their moments. Up until the game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Claiborne had played fantastic football. He didn't have a great game against the Atlanta Falcons, but like I said he is a rookie playing one of the hardest positions in sports.
Pro Football Focus had Claiborne on their All-Rookie Team before Sunday's game against the Eagles. Claiborne graded out with a positive 2.1 grading prior to his performance Sunday. The Eagles didn't necessarily target and attack Claiborne on Sunday. Claiborne only surrendered 4 catches for 44 yards, granted that one of those catches was a one-handed grab by Riley Cooper.
Against the Eagles, penalties were the issue for Claiborne. In all, Claiborne committed five penalties (three holding and two offsides penalties). To put that in perspective, Claiborne committed only one penalty last year while at LSU. So after he committed five penalties in a big game that the Cowboys needed, he felt compelled to man up to his mistakes.
After the game, Claiborne stood up in front of the entire locker room and apologized for his play. He promised he would never play that poorly again. There aren't too many young players who have the character that Claiborne has. One of the reasons the Cowboys loved Claiborne so much was due to his character. Yes, he is a fantastic athlete, but he is also a great young man who has a great attitude and approach towards life.
Here is a quote from Claiborne about his performance after the game.
"I can't take that as me being a young corner," he said. "Because I have to go out and play. I'm out here with all these veterans and they expect me to go out there and play. The rookie stuff, all of that stuff is overblown. I don't take it as learning, I got to go out and play if we want to be the best secondary in this league, I can't go out and play like that."
"You won't see another performance like that from me."
Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have become very close teammates. Both play the same position, but they are beginning to develop a strong chemistry with each other. Carr defended his teammate and talked about how Claiborne fought through the adversity that he faced during the Eagles game.
"He’s a battler. He’s not going to let down," Carr said. "I know he’s going to work to tighten up some things, but we’re still going to get after it on the island and we’re going to challenge guys each week. I told him, ‘You’re going to have those days where things aren’t going your way or you just feel like everybody’s against you. But you’re going to have other days when you’re out there shutting guys down.’ He just needs to continue to have that aggressive nature, that aggressive attitude, because it’s going to pay off in the future."
One has to wonder, is Claiborne beginning to hit the rookie wall? While he was at LSU, Claiborne appeared in 12 games during 2010 and 14 games in 2011. After four preseason games and nine regular-season games, it's possible that Claiborne is beginning to hit the rookie wall.
Also keep in mind, Claiborne missed a lot of time in the spring while he was recovering from surgery to his wrist. Then during training camp, Claiborne missed some time for a mild knee sprain. His head coach Jason Garrett described Claiborne's situation pretty well.
"I think it’s been really impressive," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Claiborne's play. "He came from a big-time program and played a lot of big games, so I don’t think at any time we feel like he’s been in awe of this situation. We drafted him for a reason. He’s a very talented guy. But having said that, he’s a rookie in the NFL, playing a very difficult position and he did miss a lot of time through this spring and through training camp. I do think his development in recent weeks has been really pretty good. He’s playing a lot. I think he learns from the experiences, and I think he’s playing with more confidence and aggressiveness and that’s a real positive thing for him. We certainly like him a lot."
If Claiborne were getting beat consistently and messing up his assignments, then I would be worried. But Claiborne isn't doing that. He has been very consistent in his rookie season and has been great in man coverage. He loves to get physical at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes, cornerbacks are going to get those calls for being too physical. It also doesn't help that Claiborne is just a rookie. Perhaps if he were a veteran, some of those holding penalties wouldn't have been called.
Every rookie is going to go through their peaks and valleys, but I wouldn't worry about Claiborne. He was one of the highest rated cornerbacks in the last decade for a reason. Claiborne has shown this season that he can shutdown some of the best wide receivers in the league. Claiborne is also going to put a lot of work in off-the-field and in the film room.
There are a lot of players you should be worried about on the Dallas Cowboys, but Morris Claiborne isn't one of them.