Commentary

Morris Claiborne move is big, bold

Credit Cowboys for being aggressive and nabbing draft's premier cornerback

Updated: April 27, 2012, 3:25 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- Admit it. You were shocked.

Me too.

No one, except for those folks in the Dallas Cowboys' draft room, anticipated the bold move Jerry Jones and his crew made Thursday night at the club's Valley Ranch facility.

[+] EnlargeMorris Claiborne
Jerry Lai/US PresswireCornerback Morris Claiborne was the highest-rated defensive player on the Cowboys' draft board.

Anyone who says he or she saw it coming is lying.

No exceptions.

The Cowboys sacrificed only a second-round pick to swap their 14th pick of the first round for the St. Louis Rams' first-round pick. Then the Cowboys used the sixth pick in the draft to take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

Wow.

Are you kidding me? My mouth is still agape.

Seriously.

What a bold move. What an aggressive decision once the Rams called around noon Thursday to suggest they wanted to move down.

Let's be honest -- we ain't seen a move like this since Jimmy Johnson controlled the Cowboys' draft room.

Understand, normally, talking about the good old days when Jimmy and Jerry dominated the NFL bores me because it's ancient history. It has been 20 years. It's way past time to move on.

Trading for Claiborne, however, is a deal worthy of a one-day pass to reminisce about the time when Jimmy and Jerry controlled the draft.

Just so you know, Claiborne was the highest-rated defensive player on the Cowboys' draft board. Only Andrew Luck ranked higher overall.

Feel free to give Jerry a standing ovation. Stephen Jones, too. While you're at it, you might as well keep standing for scouting director Tom Ciskowski and coach Jason Garrett.

Claiborne, according to folks who study these things, is the draft's best cornerback. Go study the mock drafts that have filled the Internet the past few weeks, and most had Claiborne being selected among the top five players.

In the past few days, momentum seemed to be gathering that Claiborne would go to Minnesota with the third pick.

He's supposed to be that good.

After all, he won the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to college football's best cornerback. In two seasons as a starter, he intercepted 11 passes and returned them for 274 yards, a 24.9-yard average.

The only cornerback in the conversation with Claiborne was South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore, selected by Buffalo with the 10th pick.

You could easily argue Claiborne is a more complete player overall, but there's no question Claiborne is more of a playmaker.

We all know that's what this Cowboys defense has lacked. Now the Cowboys have playmakers on all three levels of their defense.

They sacrificed a lot to come down to get me, but I feel like I'm worth it.

-- No. 6 pick Morris Claiborne

DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff on the defensive line, Sean Lee at linebacker, and Claiborne (we assume) and cornerback Brandon Carr (acquired in free agency for $50 million over five years) in the secondary.

Perhaps the Cowboys' defense can now make some plays in the fourth quarter and stop opponents when the game is on the line.

For the first time in forever, it was nice to see the Cowboys target a game-changing impact player and figure out a way to add him to their team. They didn't move down and draft whoever was left from the group of players they liked.

Instead, they made a bold move.

Hallelujah.

Garrett has been preaching the need to have fierce competition throughout the roster since he became coach. The competition at cornerback among Claiborne, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick for playing time alongside Carr will be the best it has been since the Cowboys were winning Super Bowls.

It will make each of them better. And it'll make Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and the other receivers better, too.

And with Eli Manning, Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III quarterbacking the Cowboys' opponents within the division, it was imperative Dallas improve its secondary or pass rush.

For the rest of their careers, Claiborne and defensive end Fletcher Cox, the draft's best pass-rusher, will be linked. The Cowboys passed on Cox to take Claiborne, while Philadelphia moved up three spots to take Cox with the 12th pick.

The Cowboys couldn't keep their best cornerbacks healthy last season, which resulted in Alan Ball and Frank Walker playing way too much.

Neither was re-signed in the offseason, and Terence Newman, who struggled with nagging injuries all season, was released.

So there's no need to trade Jenkins just because he's in the final year of his contract or because of some media-driven perception that he's going to be angry the Cowboys used the sixth pick on a cornerback.

"They sacrificed a lot to come down to get me, but I feel like I'm worth it," Claiborne said on a conference call. "I know my talents. I know what I'm able to do.

"They want me to come in and play right away and be a lock-down guy, and I feel like, in the right hands, which I am, I feel like I can come in right away and do that."

Confidence. Swag. Arrogance.

Claiborne has it all, which is the type of attitude it takes to thrive at cornerback in the NFL.

Go ahead and pinch yourself. It's OK.

It's been so long since the Cowboys made a bold move in the draft that it's hard to believe they added one of the draft's premier defensive players.

But they did, so give them one more handclap.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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