Morris Claiborne really impresses the Cowboys
By STEPHEN HAWKINS AP Sports Writer April 27, 2012 11:42AM
LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, right, poses for photographs with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the sixth pick overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the NFL football draft at Radio City Music Hall, Thursday, April 26, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Updated: April 27, 2012 11:42AM
IRVING, Texas — The surprise for LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne wasn’t that he got picked sixth overall in the NFL draft. It was when he got a call from Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Claiborne said that he had never spoken to Cowboys executives before they traded up eight spots Thursday night to take the All-American who was considered by most as the best defensive back available.
“I didn’t see it coming in a million years. I had no idea,” Claiborne said. “We didn’t talk none, none at all. That’s why it was shocking to me when I got the phone call.”
While the Cowboys went into the draft in need of defensive playmakers, Jones said Claiborne was the only player they were willing to make such a significant deal to get.
The Cowboys made a trade with St. Louis, sending their No. 14 pick and their second-round selection, 45th overall, to the Rams. That left Dallas with only one pick Friday, 81st overall in the third round, though Jones certainly could try to make more moves.
The Cowboys couldn’t pass up the chance to get Claiborne, the No. 2 player on their draft board behind only Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who as expected was the first overall pick by Indianapolis.
“Use the word elite, we think he is,” Jones said. “I think he’s the most consensus pick and the most consensus move I can ever remember on our draft day.”
This was the 59th draft-day trade for Jones since he bought the team in 1989. It was the 18th time one of those deals involved his first-round pick.
Claiborne led the Tigers with six interceptions last season and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He had 11 picks in 26 games the last two seasons. He was also LSU’s top kickoff returner, averaging 25 yards per return including a 99-yard touchdown at West Virginia.
“I know they sacrificed to come down to get me, but I feel like I’m worth it,” Claiborne said. “I know my talents, I know what I’m able to do and feel like I can come in right away and get with the team, learn the system and compete.”
Claiborne was asked about reports that he scored poorly on the Wonderlic test, which is designed to gauge a prospect’s intelligence, problem-solving ability and cognitive skills.
“I know what type of person I am, I know that tests don’t reflect how I learn or what type of person I am,” Claiborne said. “I looked at the test, no questions that came with football, so I pretty much blew the test off. ... I’m here for football.”
Jones said the test results were “just not an issue with us at all” and that the Cowboys understand Claiborne’s “ability to play the game and play the defense.” Jones said those scores don’t take into account how the player takes coaching, or his football instincts and skills.
Among people Dallas spoke with about Claiborne was LSU coach Les Miles, a former assistant with the Cowboys.
Claiborne is recovering from surgery done after the NFL combine to repair ligament damage in his left wrist.
The Cowboys don’t consider the injury serious even though he is wearing a cast and then will have to wear a brace, keeping him out of action during the rookie minicamp next week and other organized team activities in May and June. But they expected him to be ready for the start of training camp in late July.
The Cowboys have been looking to add impact players for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
They were active in free agency last month, signing cornerback Brandon Carr to a $50 million, five-year deal that includes $26.5 million guaranteed. Among other free agents they signed were safety Brodney Pool and linebacker Dan Connor.
Now they have used their highest draft pick since 2003 — when cornerback Terence Newman was picked fifth overall — on another top corner.
Newman, a starter all nine of his seasons in Dallas, was released by the Cowboys when free agency started and has since signed with Cincinnati. Newman was a two-time Pro Bowl pick and started 131 of his 133 games for Dallas.
The No. 6 pick Dallas got from St. Louis was one of the selections the Rams got from Washington, which moved up to second overall to get Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III out of Baylor.
Last April, in what was an unusual year with the NFL lockout, it was an unusual draft for the Cowboys and Jones. Dallas used only two of its eight picks on defenders in 2011. And for only the second time under Jones’ ownership, the Cowboys didn’t make any trades during the draft.
The Cowboys still have six more picks in this year’s draft, including two fourth-round picks.
Earlier Thursday, the Cowboys signed offensive tackle Jermey Parnell to a three-year contract. He appeared in six games last season.
Claiborne is from Shreveport, La., about a three-hour drive from Dallas. Being unexpectedly picked by the Cowboys was a nice surprise for his family.
“To see the look on their faces ... all those guys are Cowboys fans,” Claiborne said. “Always my whole household was Cowboys fans. I had no choice but to root for the Cowboys.”