Dallas Cowboys cornerback and 2012 sixth overall pick Morris Claiborne is already generating the wide-spread comparisons to one former elite cornerback in the league and seemingly the added burden of being the answer to save a notoriously criticized Dallas defensive backfield.
Add to that, Cowboys owner and GM Jerry Jones saying that Claiborne was the sole player the franchise would trade up for in the draft.
That’s a lot of pressure for a newly drafted kid out of LSU who has yet to see time on an NFL field.
Critics and analysts have already formed comparisons of Claiborne to former Cowboys All-Pro and 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee cornerback Deion Sanders. Claiborne, like Sanders, won the prestigious Jim Thorpe Award, given to the year’s best defensive back.
Other immediate comparisons that can be drawn with Claiborne are of him to Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha or Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis—and that isn’t too shabby either.
But, Claiborne is still a rookie and the realistic expectations of that still need to be remembered. Most often, too much emphasis is placed on the fact that as first round draft picks, contributions from those players are expected immediately. The numbers put up in college don’t always necessarily translate to the pros—ala “the NFL Bust.”
In speaking with former Cowboys scout and current Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus, he had an interesting take on if there is any legitimacy of connecting similarities in playing styles of both Claiborne and Sanders. And Broaddus offered another Sanders correlation to a player Claiborne used to play opposite of at LSU.
“It’s a stretch to think that Claiborne should be compared to Sanders,” Broaddus said. “Claiborne doesn’t have the explosive ability that Sanders played with. Sanders had some rare traits when it came to coverage, Claiborne is outstanding in the air and his ability to play the ball but when you watched Sanders play, there was little space or separation from the receiver. If you compared Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals to Sanders, it would actually be a closer comparison because of the burst and speed.”
And just how critical would an effective pass rush be for Claiborne to see instantaneous success in the league?
“Any corner can benefit from an outstanding pass rush,” Broddus said. “Last season in the playoffs the Giants front seven did an outstanding job of helping their cornerbacks in coverage. The Giants were able to put pressure on Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith and Tom Brady throughout their games.”
Broaddus continued by saying, “The Giants’ secondary was average at best during the 2011 season. Claiborne was a press man corner at LSU and his immediate success in the league will come more from his ability to handle receivers that make a living in this league avoiding that type of coverage. There will be a learning curve here but Claiborne is more than talented enough to handle the job.”
Echoing Broaddus’ sentiments is Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan who said of Claiborne, “Obviously, this guy’s a unique talent. We didn’t move up in the draft to get a guy that’s not going to play. We’ve got an outstanding guy here.”
Claiborne joins a defensive back unit that includes former Pro Bowler Mike Jenkins, Orlando Scandrick and newly signed veteran Brandon Carr. A self-proclaimed product of a family of Cowboys fans growing up, Claiborne has publicly gushed about what it means for him to wear the illustrious star on the side of his helmet. “All I knew is (the Cowboys) are America’s Team,” Claiborne said. “I’m excited to be here.”
Claiborne also cited outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware as one of the “leaders” of the current Cowboys squad to the NFL Network shortly after being drafted by his new team. Combine Ryan, Jenkins, Scandrick, Carr and a strong presence of leadership in the locker room from the likes of Ware and Claiborne certainly won’t be lacking in a substantial support system that is vital to a rookie.
What Claiborne will do this upcoming season in the NFL is pure speculation and still a mystery at this point. To many Cowboys fans and critics alike, the looming question will be how a rookie can step in and aid a team, when the veterans seem like they can’t even figure out what their own defensive coordinator is doing.
But it certainly helps in padding the case for Claiborne’s potential success to know that he can add the accolades of being a unanimous All-American (who was also named the best defensive back in the NCAA his junior year at LSU) to his resume.
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