+ Above average size and speed
+ Plays with excellent on field intensity
+ Very physical
+ Fundamentally sound
+ Dominant in coverage
+ Very disciplined in coverage
+ Fluid athlete
+ Long arms, fantastic hands, and quick to react to the ball in the air
- Solid height, but mediocre bulk
– Poor instincts against the run
– Poor tackler
– Mediocre short area quickness
Many of you probably remember me calling Patrick Peterson the most overrated player of the draft last year. I don’t take back what I said about him; I never denied he would be a good punt returner (although I admit I had no idea he would be as good a punt returner as he turned out to be), but I thought he was overrated and terrible in coverage, and he didn’t do much to change my mind of that opinion in his rookie season. But, to everyone who hated me last year for what I said about Peterson: I absolutely do not feel the same way about his former teammate, LSU corner Morris Claiborne. Claiborne should dominate in the NFL.
Claiborne has average measurables for a first round corner. He has above average height, solid speed, but mediocre bulk. However, he has excellent strength in spite of his average size, and he has added bulk year by year at LSU.
Claiborne has solid stats. He wound up with a terrific 6 interceptions this year, and was second in the nation in interception return yards. He got a respectable 51 tackles this year as well. Over the course of his 3 year career at LSU, he got 95 tackles and 11 interceptions, which is pretty impressive.
Claiborne best asset is his ability to be succeed in coverage. He is a shutdown corner in any kind of coverage, and he is fundamentally perfect in every aspect of coverage. He has great awareness of the play, he is extremely physical, he never gives receivers a big cushion in man coverage, he does an excellent job of using his hands and strength to jam receivers in press coverage, he has outstanding awareness in zone coverage, fantastic discipline in man and zone coverage, and he does a fantastic job of reading the receivers eyes to know when the ball is in the air (even if his back is to the ball) and to stop the pass. He is also a very fluid athlete, which helps him keep up with some of the games best route runners, but he doesn’t accelerate very quickly, and he has only average recovery speed.
Claiborne has perfect hands. If you don’t have unlimited game film at your disposal, a good way to tell how good a defensive player is at catching the ball is figuring out what percentage of the balls he touched were intercepted, simply interceptions/passes deflected. For example, Claiborne had 11 interceptions and 23 pass breakups over the course of his career, which means he intercepted 47.8% of the passes he touched in his career, which, believe it or not, is well above average. I never saw Claiborne miss a potential interception, since he has long arms, good leaping ability, a keen sense of when the ball is in the air, outstanding hands, fluid hips, and awesome body control in the air. Claiborne’s ball skills are among the best of any corner in this draft class.
Claiborne appears to have good intangibles. He plays with phenomenal on field intensity, he is very physical, he appears to be a hard worker, and I am unaware of any off the field issues he has.
Claiborne’s biggest issue is that he is a mediocre run stopper. He is a mediocre tackler who could really afford to clean up his fundamentals when making hits, he has poor instincts and play recognition as a run stopper, and he doesn’t do a good job of using his hands to shed off blocks. However, due to his above average strength for his size and long arms, he has potential as a run stopper, as long as he learns to wrap up instead of going for the big hit and learns how to use his hands to shed off blocks.
Ultimately, I feel that Claiborne should dominate in the NFL. Unlike Peterson, I don’t think he is overrated. I might argue that Dre’ Kirkpatrick is better than Claiborne (I love big corners), but I still think Claiborne will be successful in the NFL.
NFL comparison: Darrelle Revis. Both of them have solid size, elite cover skills, are mediocre run stoppers. Revis might be a tad bit faster. Claiborne has slightly better ball skills. Still somewhat similar.
Grade: 98 (worthy of a top 6 pick)
Projection: 98 (will be a top 6 pick)