Morris Claiborne, CB
School: LSU | Conference: SEC
College Experience: Junior | Hometown: Shreveport, LA
04/27/2012 – Claiborne is the team’s highest pick since they took Newman fifth overall in 2003. It was Jones’ 59th draft-day trade since 1989, the 18th involving a first-round pick. Claiborne, 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, was first-team All-American in 2011 and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. He had 11 interceptions the past two years, including six in 2011. He is also a standout kickoff returner. “We said before the draft the only player we had an interest in moving up to get was Claiborne,” Jones said. “We had serious doubts he would get to six. But then the opportunity presented itself and they started taking players in front of him and the price was right for us. To go from 14 to six, you got give up something. By a lot of charts you got to give up more. To a get a difference maker on defense, we pulled the trigger.”
Claiborne arrived at LSU expecting to play wide receiver, but was moved to corner as a freshman at the insistence of teammate Patrick Peterson. In 2010, Claiborne started opposite Peterson (No. 5 overall selection in 2011 draft, Arizona Cardinals) in what will be remembered as one of the best cornerback tandems in college history. Peterson won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back in 2010 and Claiborne won the award himself last season when he grabbed six of his 11 career interceptions. That popular term shutdown corner comes to mind watching Claiborne, who has in-your-face coverage instincts and is one of the best returners in this draft. A versatile athlete, “Mo” piled up 2,000 all-purpose yards and 30 touchdowns at quarterback as senior at Shreveport’s Fair Park High School, where he also played baseball, basketball and won the Louisiana State 4A, 110-meter championship (10.76 seconds). Little wonder he is dangerous with the ball, evidenced by a college career total of 274 yards after the theft, including an 89-yard touchdown. He also averaged 28.8 yards last year on kickoff returns, including a 99-yard touchdown. At the Scouting Combine his unofficial time in 40 yards was an acceptable 4.50, but his speed wasn’t in question. Claiborne will need to add bulk to be competitive at the next level.
Man Coverage: Size, quick feet and reach allow him to be effective in press, press-bail and “off” coverage. Rarely loses a step off the line because of his length and subtle knack for maintaining contact on the move. Packs a solid punch when extending near the line to re-route receivers. Gives up significant weight and mass to top NFL receivers. Lazy and high in his backpedal on occasion, receivers lull him to sleep and get a step on him with a quick move.
Zone Coverage: Used primarily in man. Has the physical tools to handle zone and is not contact-shy. Doesn’t give up many yards after the catch — long arms to pull down receivers and intensity to stick his nose in the pile. Recovers well but overestimates his closing speed and angle in zone.
Ball Skills: Former receiver has the hands to make difficult catches and will jump routes. Comfortable with the ball, elusive and has good vision after the catch. Often plays the man and doesn’t get his head around to find the ball.
Run Support: Used on run blitzes on occasion with size and length as a tackler. Holds up his man, maintains outside leverage, and sheds to make the tackle if needed on most plays. Has to be aware of coverage call and avoid overpursuit, giving up the sideline.
Tackling: Arm length and tenacious attitude make him a solid, if not fearsome, tackler on the edge. Height and flexibility to attack the thigh of opponents instead of needing to cut or grab an ankle. Not afraid to throw a shoulder but will miss tackles if he doesn’t wrap in the NFL.
Intangibles: Stood up well to being targeted by teams in 2010 while playing across from Patrick Peterson. Still learning the position, but coaches and teammates consider him a great student.