In the finale of looking at potential draft selections at number four (for the Cleveland Browns) the last is the cornerback from Louisiana State, Morris Claiborne.
(I’ve omitted Matt Kalil because I do not see him dropping to number four and if he does I cannot see the team selecting a right tackle that early. I chose to ignore Ryan Tannehill because I will have an aneurism if they choose him with the fourth pick).
The Case For (and Against) Morris Claiborne:
Many scouts regard Claiborne as the most (or second most) talented athlete in the draft. With Robert Griffin III off the board (at that point), the Browns will have an option to take the defensive stalwart with the fourth selection. This falls in line with general manager Tom Heckert’s philosophy of taking the best player available, regardless of position. (Being a multi-sport athlete in high school, including a sprinting champion only drives home the point).
Like Richardson, Morris played in the Southeast Conference against some of the fastest and strongest wide receivers at the NCAA level. The result was six interceptions (one for a touchdown) and 11 passes defended, which was fourth in the conference, along with a kickoff return for a touchdown on special teams. Being extremely versatile is one way to earn a long career in the NFL. It also is one of the several reasons why NFL personnel are labeling him as “the safest pick in the draft” as he will likely have the best chance sustain success.
Watching him play, I notice and admire his physical type of play. Morris is not afraid of contact and will figure in his new team’s run support. Additionally, he will jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and could cause problems for opposing receivers. His passion on the field also stands out; you can see the excitement after big plays through his celebrations. This type of attitude could give the Browns’ defense an element of swagger not seen over the past few seasons.
In addition to his stellar on the field play, Claiborne showed he warrants a top draft choice during his pro day. He ran a sub 4.4 40-yard dash, which is exceptionally fast for an NFL player; he is strong, fast, and instinctual – something needed in the cornerback position. The pairing of Morris along with incumbent Joe Haden would give the Cleveland Browns one of the league’s best defensive backfields for a long time.
Much like Trent Richardson, Morris will begin 2012 coming off surgery – the cornerback needed his wrist repaired. This could cause teams to steer away from him, however others may dismiss the ligament tear as not as serious as others (i.e. a leg injury). Fortunately for the draft pick, he does not need full use of his hands as much of his legs on every play – hypothetically he could play with a cast and still be effective.
It has been well publicized that the Wonderlic test was not kind to Claiborne during the 2012 Scouting Combine. His score of four (out of a possible 50) was one of the lowest ever by a person taking the exam. A possible explanation for this score could be that he has a learning disability, which makes him a bad test taker and causes underperformance. This is likely the easier situation to manage should the Browns draft him. That would just imply that the team would have to find the best way to teach him the necessary football skills, techniques, plays, etc. so he can pick them up easily and transfer them to his repertoire.
The second reason for the poor outcome on the exam could be that Morris did not give much effort and just looked to complete it. Although this period lasted only 12 minutes, it could speak negatively about his work ethic and character. If the cornerback is not willing to put in the time and effort for something as menial as a quick standardized test, one can wonder how he will respond with more difficult tasks (including ones where he has to study and learn). The major counterpoint against giving Claiborne’s wonderlic credence would lie in his position. Unlike quarterback or offensive line, cornerback is a spot where players do not need to remember mass quantities of information and instead go off of feel, tendencies, and physical ability.
In 2011, the Cleveland Browns offense was much more dire than their defensive counterparts. Therefore, many fans and experts alike feel the team should center around bringing in talented players on the offensive side of the ball (especially in the earlier rounds). Selecting Claiborne, while giving the team a playmaker, causes the franchise to miss out on one of the most dynamic players that can do something that the team had trouble doing last season – score touchdowns.
There’s little room to argue that Morris Claiborne is an excellent football player and will be a very good member in NFL. The tricky part for the Browns is deciding whether to select him at number four. The fanbase (and front office) wants the team to turn the corner and win more football games, beginning in 2012. With the large league-wide offensive outputs in 2011, and the rules tailored to them, the Browns should follow this trend and address the side of the ball where points must be scored. With 13 draft selections to play with, that will definitely occur – it’s just a matter of when.