On Second Thought
Claiborne must be elite -- and isn't
That's the player the Cowboys thought they were getting when they packaged their first two picks in 2012 and sent them to St. Louis to move up to No. 6 overall. Jerry Jones was just giddy about landing a dynamic playmaking cornerback whom the Dallas scouts considered the best college prospect at his position since Deion Sanders.
We're still waiting for Claiborne to resemble that kind of cornerback. He has a grand total of one interception and eight passes defensed in 17 career games.
It's one thing for a young cornerback to give up some catches, even some big plays. That happens. The hope -- actually, the expectation -- was that Claiborne would make game-changing plays of his own.
"A big part of his evaluation coming out of school is he made a lot of plays on the ball and he's just a natural catcher," coach Jason Garrett said of Claiborne, who had 11 picks in his last two seasons at LSU. "You see it in practice; you'd like to see it more in games. That really hasn't been an issue. He does have a knack for the football, and we think that's a good thing. He naturally catches the ball, and his relationship with the receiver is typically pretty good. He has long arms and good hands and is able to make plays on the ball.
"Obviously, we want to see more of those in ballgames."
Honestly, we didn't see it in practices in Oxnard, Calif., this summer either. Claiborne didn't have any picks during his two weeks of practice before his knee flared up, an issue that sidelined him for the preseason and further stunted his development.
This isn't to say that Claiborne is a bust. That's way too harsh for a cornerback who stepped in as a starter. It's just that the standards are extremely high for him, given the price the Cowboys paid to get him.
Was the Claiborne pick a mistake? That has to be judged by what could have been.
Would the Dallas defense be better off with defensive tackle Michael Brockers and linebacker Bobby Wagner? Those are the players the Cowboys would have drafted if they kept the 14th and 46th overall picks in the 2012 draft. Brockers is a solid run-stuffer for the St. Louis Rams; Wagner is a star for the Seattle Seahawks.
More than a year into his NFL career, the Cowboys still talk a lot about Claiborne's potential and not much about his performance. That's not good enough for a guy they considered the best cornerback prospect in a couple of decades.
Cowboys need to be patient with CB
It was just 17 months ago that the Dallas Cowboys traded the No. 14 pick and a second-round selection to move up eight spots to grab Morris Claiborne. The pick was hailed as a smart one, giving the team a cover corner with plenty of upside.
It's time to relax and show some patience.
Claiborne hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to show off his true potential. He had wrist surgery before the draft and missed time. He dealt with a knee injury heading into this season that kept him out of part of the preseason, and now he has a dislocated shoulder.
He certainly hasn't looked like a first-round pick. He hasn't even come close to what the team expected when it traded up for him. Claiborne hasn't looked like that cornerback who played in the Southeastern Conference, a league known for hard-hitting defenses.
But let's not forget that patience can pay off. The Cowboys have two prime examples from recent drafts. Dallas drafted Sean Lee, an injured linebacker out of Penn State, in 2010 whose development was slowed. Now he's one of this team's leaders and has a new multiyear contract.
One year later, Dallas drafted an injured Bruce Carter. He's now a critical component of this Tampa 2 defense as the weakside linebacker.
Imagine if the Cowboys had decided early in their careers that Carter and Lee couldn't hack it. This would be a dramatically different defense.
Claiborne has the talent and work ethic to improve, but he has to be healthy. That isn't the case right now, and it's affecting his ability to play at his true potential. That's not an excuse. It's just a fact.
This is a first-round pick and someone who has the skill level to succeed in this league. This team isn't exactly deep at corner either. Now is the time to sit back and be patient. Let Claiborne develop. Get him healthy and see what he's learned. This team needs Claiborne to play like a first-round pick, and I believe he's capable.
Don't give up on him yet, Jerry.
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