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Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: April 27, 5:16 PM ET
Claiborne feels relief, not pressure

By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Morris Claiborne was so stunned that he lost his breath. Was that really Jerry Jones on the line asking whether he wanted to join the Dallas Cowboys, a team that had not even bothered to check to make sure it had his correct contact information leading up to the NFL draft?

The Cowboys had not interviewed Claiborne at the combine or invited him to Valley Ranch. To his knowledge, they hadn't contacted his agent or his college coach. Nothing. Radio silence.

So surely this was a joke. But when Claiborne heard the unmistakable twang, he knew: This was no joke; this was Jones. The Louisiana State cornerback turned to his family of Cowboys fans, who were sitting with him in the green room of Radio City Music Hall.

"Who is it?" someone asked.

"The Cowboys," Claiborne mouthed.

"The look in their eyes, my dad sitting beside me, oh my God," Claiborne said nearly an hour later, still shocked. "It says a lot when a team comes that far to come all the way up to get you."

The story of the first round of the draft Thursday night was the frenetic pace at which teams struck deals to move up. We knew weeks ago that the Washington Redskins were willing to move up four spots to select their next franchise quarterback, Robert Griffin III, second overall.

But Cleveland? And Jacksonville? And Dallas? And Philadelphia? And New England (twice!)? And Minnesota? And Tampa Bay?

All made trades to move up, sending a message that was received loud and clear: We want you so much we were willing to give up valuable assets in order to get you. Don't let us down. We expect you to make an impact right away.

Talk about pressure.

Cleveland was so concerned someone might jump up to No. 3 to take Alabama running back Trent Richardson that it gave Minnesota a fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round pick in order to move up one spot to take him. Jacksonville sent a fourth-round pick to Tampa Bay to move up two spots to take Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

When Philadelphia's desired player was shockingly still on the board at No. 12, the Eagles made a trade with Seattle to move up three spots to select Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.

New England moved up to take Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones at 21 and then moved up again to select Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower at 25. Minnesota moved up to take Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith at 29, and then Tampa Bay moved to 31 to take Boise State running back Doug Martin.

That was an unprecedented amount of movement.

"It means a lot," Richardson said. "For [the Browns] to trade up for me, I've got a lot to prove."

Yes, he does. All the picks do. Richardson admitted, "There's going to be pressure," and he was right. There is pressure enough as a first-round pick. To be a first-round pick who cost additional picks, that takes the stakes to an even higher level. These players must start. They must produce. They must make an impact.

The funny thing was Claiborne said he didn't feel any of it, and really, why should he? He already had endured the indignity of reports of his Wonderlic score. Claiborne scored a four, tying the lowest known score by a draft prospect.

He was castigated on Twitter and Facebook, called stupid and much worse.

"I'm human," Claiborne said. "You can probably try to act like things don't hurt you and try not to show it, but on the inside, things do hurt. Some people are just heartless. They don't have a heart about some of the things they say, but it would take more than that to knock me down."

Claiborne accurately said of the Wonderlic: "That test don't tell me who I am and what kind of guy I am." He said he didn't try on the test, finishing only 15 to 18 of the 50 questions because he didn't think the test applied to football. Believe him or not, Claiborne was persuasive and appeared savvy, not stupid.

"I came to the combine for football," he said, adding of the test, "There weren't any questions about football."

An embarrassingly low Wonderlic score could have scared off the Cowboys. Instead, they aggressively moved up to take a player who should at some point this season challenge Mike Jenkins for the starting spot opposite Brandon Carr, the Cowboys' biggest offseason acquisition.

Dallas didn't move up eight spots to select Claiborne No. 6 overall for Claiborne not to have a big role.

Still, Claiborne was most stunned that Dallas made the move at all.

"I don't think they looked at me," he said of the months leading up to Thursday night.

No contact at all?

"You know how people call to update your number? I didn't even get that call," Claiborne said.

He thought he was going to Minnesota or Tampa Bay, the teams most frequently thought to have interest in Claiborne.

But Dallas?

"It says a lot," Claiborne said.

"I always had it in the back of my mind that no pick is in stone," he added. "Everybody trades up and trades down by the minute. I wasn't sticking myself into any of those teams. I was just ready to get off the board, really."

Claiborne got off the board and jumped into what should be a stressful, pressure-filled situation. In Dallas, he now is the chosen one. Being a high pick brings high expectations. When a team gives up the 45th overall pick to move up to get you, the expectations only become higher.

There are plenty of players who will feel that. Claiborne should feel it, but after all he went through leading up to the draft -- the humiliation, the hurt, the anger -- he won't. He will feel relief.