The Cowboys re-signed cornerback Morris Claiborne to one-year deal this offseason, likely giving him one last chance at shedding that onerous “bust” label. Is this the year Mo finally finds his game?
Few will argue CB Morris Claiborne has been a bust this far into NFL career. It wasn’t long ago the Dallas Cowboys traded up in the first round to select LSU cornerback, Morris Claiborne, number six overall.
Claiborne, the 2012 NFL Draft’s consensus top defensive player, was considered “the best CB prospect since Deion Sanders” by many reputable scouts and analysts alike. The bold move to trade up was regarded as a savvy act for the oft-scrutinized Cowboys front office.
The Cowboys gave up their second round pick to get it done, but for a cornerstone player like Claiborne, it seemed a small price to pay.
"“Morris Claiborne is a special corner,” said draft guru Mike Mayock. “He’s got the best ball skills of any corner coming out in the last several years. This is a rare athlete.”"
Unfortunately, things have not gone as planned for the Cowboys’ sure-fire All-Pro CB.
Injuries have consistently plagued the young defensive back. In four NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Morris Claiborne has been limited to 11, 4, 10, and 15 games respectively.
The man scouted as a shutdown corner with elite ball skills only logged three interceptions his entire career. Together with his wildly pedestrian 22 passes defended, Claiborne has failed to live up to even the most modest of expectations.
But is there reason for optimism? Could Morris Claiborne finally be a player in this league?
The short answer is, yes.
In two seasons at LSU, Claiborne collected 11 interceptions. He didn’t suddenly forget how to track the ball. He still has those skills.
While it remains a near-impossibility for Morris Claiborne to be the player he was drafted to be – an All Pro shutdown CB – he could still develop into a solid player in the NFL.
The important thing to keep in mind is the scouting report was not all that wrong on young Morris Claiborne. Incomplete? Yes. Overstated? Certainly. But it wasn’t a complete whiff either.
The long answer is all built around his health and confidence…
The physical ability and tangible skillset that made Morris Claiborne a first round pick remain true. Mo has the speed, physicality, and change of direction necessary to be a #1 cornerback. While the stats beg to differ, Claiborne is a natural ballhawk, preferring to track the ball in the air rather than face-guard the opposing receiver.
He hasn’t shown that much as a Dallas Cowboys but he has flashed it practice and proven it in college, so we know it’s there.
In two seasons at LSU, Claiborne collected 11 interceptions. He didn’t suddenly forget how to track the ball. He still has those skills. The key is finding them again and that’s where his storied injury history comes into play.
As mentioned above, Mo has been a fixture on the injury report over the years. Even when able to play, Mo has been slowed to injury more often than not. Claiborne has missed games, minicamps, training camps, and practices. He simply hasn’t been on the field long enough to develop into an NFL CB.
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This offseason, things are looking up for Morris Claiborne. After falling to a career low playing weight in 2014, Claiborne is up to 190lbs and stronger than ever before. Cited as perhaps the most aggressive player in offseason minicamps, Claiborne is playing a physical brand of football not seen since his playing days at LSU. The same playing days that appraised him as a top-10 pick.
Mo isn’t taking this season safely. He’s all in. He’s bullying receivers at the line, jumping routes, and making plays on the ball. He’s now finding the confidence he struggled to find for four years. If it sounds like you’ve heard this before, it’s because you have.
Every year seems like “the year” that Morris will surely figure it out and develop into the CB we all hoped for. And every year Mo falls short. The repeated disappointments may be cause for guarded optimism, but it doesn’t change the fact that Morris Claiborne is the same talented young man he once was.
At age 26 and entering his fifth NFL season, time is ticking on the young corner. It’s make or break time for Morris Claiborne and all indications say that he’s willing and able to rise to the challenge.
Morris Claiborne has always had the speed, athleticism and ball skills to play in this league. He is adding strength, knowledge, and confidence to his game this offseason. If Morris Claiborne can remain healthy and keep building on what he has shown this spring, he may just reclaim his career.