Where Should Cowboys Fans Set Their Expectations With Morris Claiborne?

In this edition of Cowboys Nation’s chat with ESPN Insider K.C. Joyner, he discusses rookie cornerback developmental curves and what the fans could expect from top pick Morris Claiborne this fall. 

Cowboys Nation: If we look at the developmental curves of NFL receivers, you don’t see a lot of rookies stepping into the league and lighting it up.  I looked at it a couple of years ago and I think there were only two or three rookies in the last decade to top the 1000 yard mark in that first year.  The good ones take off in year two or year three.

Do you see a similar learning curve with rookie cornerbacks?  And if you do, what can or should Cowboys fans realistically expect from Morris Claiborne in 2012?

K.C. Joyner:  Cornerbacks I have found, generally speaking they follow one of two curves.  They either start off really well and taper off late, or they start off badly and they get better as the year progresses. There are other types, like Patrick Peterson.  He did really badly at the beginning of the year, then he did okay in the middle and had the punt returns and the touchdowns.  Then, he kind of stunk the rest of the year.

A lot of times if they start badly and improve as the season progresses, it’s like they say, “wow, the speed and the playbook, it’s too much,” and they they start to get it and their play improves, because their talent starts to show up.

The other type catch up to the game early, but the wear of a sixteen-game NFL season catches up to them.  They’re used to playing 13-14 game college seasons, but at least two or three of those games are against complete creampuffs and you might be rotated out in the 3rd quarter because it’s a blowout.   In essence, you’re playing a 10-11 game season and they get a 20 day break between the last game and their bowl game.  I think the fatigue catches up to those guys and they have to learn how to adjust to it.

Let’s put it this way — Darrelle Revis had a 7.9 YPA in  his rookie season.  We know how great he is.  In season one if you get great play from a rookie cornerback that’s great.  If you get good play, be real happy and don’t judge where the cornerback is by his first year.  You can have exceptions, but if a Darrelle Revis had struggles and didn’t dominate in his first season, it’s a high bar.  I don’t think you can’t expect Morris Claiborne to dominate his first year.

CN:  The cost aside, I think Cowboys fans are happy with getting Morris Claiborne the player.  The team talked him up.  Everybody has talked him up as one of the best players in the draft.  That said, where should we realistically set expectations for 2012, in metric terms?

KC:  If he had a yards-per-attempt total in the eight yard range.  That’s not very good, but if you had a YPA around 8.0 or better and he put up four or five picks, I’d be happy with his season, as long as you knew he was progressing.

That’s the “satisfactory” line.  If he does better than that, and he’s capable of doing better than that, then great.  I don’t expect fans are going to keep it in perspective, though. They want to win right now.  They want a Super Bowl now.

Look at the Giants last year.  They drafted Amukamara, who was not as highly rated a prospect as Claiborne, but who for a while was a guy Cowboys fans were talking about.  He got hurt early in the year, but he cam back, acclimated and did solid.  Not great, but solid.  He learned a lot.

I don’t think the Giants are unhappy with his first year.

Who was it for Dallas, Everson Walls, who had ten picks as a rookie?  If Morris Claiborne doesn’t have an Everson Walls-like first year, people should not call him a failure.

CN:  Well for one, his expectations were low.  Walls wasn’t drafted, where Claiborne is a top-6 pick.  Now, nobody did YPAs in those days, but what I remember about Everson Walls is that you could complete passes on him.  Teams were not afraid to throw at him.  In fact they targeted him a lot.

He would give up big plays, because he didn’t have elite speed.  He was a poor-man’s ball-hawk; you would get some on him, but he would steal some from you and Dallas usually came out ahead in that bargain.  If you could look at old tape and calculate YPA, I doubt Walls ever had a really high one, ever.

K.C.:  But as you said, that’s the bargain.  The picks gave Dallas what they wanted.  There are not many corners you can count on to deliver picks.  Claiborne is one of those guys.

I would judge him more on how the Cowboys do interception wise, and even that is a risky proposition.  Luck is a factor in interceptions.  But if he goes out there and gets his hands on a few passes, he’s helping the team.  If he gets four picks and doesn’t get burned a lot, he’s doing well.  Mind you, four picks is a low number.  I think he could snag six or seven.  But if he picks off four passes…

I would hold off judgement on him until year two, but when you trade up to the 6th overall pick, people want to see results immediately.  I just don’t see him being a 6.0 YPA guy and a 6-7 pick guy in 2012.

Next:  Run game metrics.

Rafael Vela

Rafael Vela

Senior Analyst Cowboys Nation.com at Sports Talk Line
Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com
Rafael Vela

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  • Taylor

    I was a Newman fan, but he just got old and brittle.  If Claiborne can turn and run, he will be an immediate upgrade.  He will struggle, the SEC is good, but it’s not the NFL.

  • M0rton

    Does anyone here (who is old enough to remember) remember how well Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson did in their rookie years with the Falcons and Steelers, respectively?

    • I don’t recall Woodson but Deion had some trouble as a rookie.  Jerry Rice lit him up, among others. 

  • Cargo65

    Expectations?  I think he’ll have his ups-n-downs, but will show overall skills in coverage.  However, fans who grew sick of seeing Newman and Jenkins half-hearted tackle attempts are going to see more of the same with Claiborne.

  • cknbonenowison

    All that said, Jenkins better bring his A game.  The first time he pusses out on a tackle and lets Bradshaw walk into the endzone, Claiborne will take his spot and won’t relinquish it.

    Mike Jenkins, in my opinion, is the WKG.

  • AustonianAggie

    KC mentioned in a recent interview with you that some teams like to have a cover corner on one side and an INT machine on the other. I just remembered that we did used to have that with Terrence Newman on one side and Anthony Henry collecting 6 picks on the other

    • D

       That’s true. Anthony Henry was a revelation his first year but was constantly banged up thereafter and never the same again. Highly underrated.

    • truecowboyfan

       I thought that was kind of an odd statement by Joyner. Personally, I would rather have two cover corners who can also pick the ball if given the opportunity. But I guess that is just being greedy.

  • D

     Raf, has there ever been any analysis done to see if high INT Corners are thrown at any less late in games than those with similar YPA but limited INT skills?

  • D

    A connected consideration and one I’d love to hear everyone’s opinions on is the concept of the relationship of Quarterbacks comfort at throwing at a Corner and the Corner’s ability to make a pick.  I have been particularly amazed over the past 2 years at how often, particularly late in close games, that Eli Manning is willing and able to thread the needle on passes against our DBs, particularly TNew and Scandrick. It has made me think that he and other QBs are happy to push what should be higher risk passes when they think there is low probability of an INT.  Some of that is also because of Scandrick’s and TNew’s inability to turn their head around despite tight coverage, but that follows my point that they are low likelihoods of INTs for a QB.  Here’s hoping that even if Mo gives up near 8.0 YPA this year that the fear of an INT limits some of those aggressive late game throws we have grown accustomed to seeing.

    • truecowboyfan

       IMO, fear of interceptions, and the potential for a game-change return, plays a big role in the confidence of QB. If a QB has to think twice about making a certain throw, then that is already a win for the defense. Indecisiveness is an ally of every defense.

      Claiborne, Carr, Jenkins…all these guys can make plays on the ball. As you mentioned, Newman, Scandrick and Ball, can’t, and they were the three main corners for Dallas for most of last year, due to Jenkins constant injuries. The upgrade in talent and play-making ability this year is off the charts!

    • joey2zs

      I think what you’re saying is that coaches and QBs will draw up plans to take advantage of the odds.  Eli Manning is not patting the ball thinking, “Hmmm… do I burn Scandrick or Newman?  Scandrick or Newman?”  He makes the proper read and throw based on what he sees and expected to see.

  • AustonianAggie

    Newman never was an interception scare; usually the worst thing about throwing to him was an incompletion.  Combining Demarcus Ware with a couple of pass defenders who can hold on to the ball is pretty exciting.

  • hardwater

    An early rotation of Jenkins/Claiborne with Claiborne taking over by mid-season seems about right.

    • The typical rookie curve definitely argues for keeping Mike Jenkins in ’12.  7.0-ish YPA even when playing banged up last year.  Add that he’ll have a chip on his shoulder this year…

    • truecowboyfan

       If Claiborne can beat Mike Jenkins out, then great. If not, great, because Jenkins is a good corner. I would like to see all the CBs compete for the top 3 spots on the depth chart. May the best man win. That will definitely benefit the ‘Boys.

  • BishoppohsiB

    I’ll be happy as long as we dont get burned with deep balls late with game on the line. Nothing more frustrating. Mo’s gotta be better than what we had last year. Overall I am optimistic!