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Cowboys see "difference-maker" in Claiborne

The Sports Xchange
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If getting what you want, sticking to your board while filling needs and taking your kind of guys constitute a good draft, then that's exactly what the Cowboys accomplished with their seven picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. They hit a home run on opening day with the trade up for LSU shutdown cornerback Morris Claiborne. They then continued the momentum by taking four straight defenders and five overall in an attempt to upgrade a unit that contributed to five blown fourth-quarter leads last season, including an NFL record three of 12 points or more.

BEST PICK

Cornerback Morris Claiborne: The Cowboys wanted cornerback Mo Claiborne so bad that they gave up a second-round pick to move from 14th to sixth in the first round. Claiborne was the highest ranked defensive player on their draft board and the second highest rated player. According to owner Jerry Jones he graded out as the highest cornerback prospect since Deion Sanders. That's important because the Cowboys were not just looking for a cover guy they wanted a playmaker to help improve a secondary that gave up more passing yards than any other time in team history.

COULD SURPRISE

Tight end James Hanna: Fast athletic tight ends have become fashionable of late in the NFL and Hannah fits the mold. He has been timed as fast as 4.46 in the 40-yard dash which is blazing for a tight end. As a junior he had 18 catches and seven touchdowns, including a 76-yarder. So he has big play potential.

A closer look at the Cowboys' picks:

Round 1/6 - Morris Claiborne, CB, 5-11, 188, Louisiana State

Claiborne is a playmaker who combined with free-agent signee Brandon Carr has turned a weak position into a strength. He is a potential star.

Round 3/81 - Tyrone Crawford, DE, 6-4, 280, Boise State

The Cowboys like him because of his motor and upside. He should be able to come in and be the nickel passer next year but they believe he can grow into a five-technique defensive end.

Round 4/113 - Kyle Wilbur, LB, 6-3, 250, Wake Forest

The Cowboys were looking to upgrade their pass rush and Wilbur helps address that need. He had 13.5 sacks in college. But he is also solid covering backs out of the backfield and good against the run.

Round 4/135 - Matt Johnson, FS, 6-2, 220, Eastern Washington

With 17 career interceptions, Johnson has nice ball skills. He can come down hill and tackle as well as play center field. Look for him to come in and make his initial impact on special teams.

Round 5/152 - Danny Coale, WR, 6-0, 220, Virginia Tech

A hard worker who appeared in 55 career games, including 54 starts in college. He is a good route runner with above average hands. He can play on the outside and in the slot.

Round 6/186 - James Hanna, TE, 6-3, 244, Oklahoma

He didn't catch a lot of passes as a senior but he showed his big play ability as a junior with seven touchdowns on 18 catches. He has a pass catching tight end with blazing speed. He needs a lot of work as a blocker.

Round 7/222 - Caleb McSurdy, LB, 6-1, 245, Montana

McSurdy clearly was a picked as a future prospect. He was a highly productive tackler in college and the Cowboys hope he can come in and make an immediate impact on special teams.

--Cowboys owner Jerry Jones went back to his gambling swashbuckling days in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft with an impressive trade with the St. Louis Rams, enabling Dallas to move from No. 14 overall to No. 6 to take standout LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne.

Jones said Claiborne was the second best player on the Cowboys' draft board behind quarterback Andrew Luck and the highest-rated cornerback by the team since Deion Sanders.

The Cowboys traded the 14th pick and the 45th overall (second round) to move up to select Claiborne.

"He is the best cornerback prospect our scouts have graded since Deion," Jones said. "He is a difference maker."

Claiborne underwent surgery last month repair a torn ligament in his left wrist. He will be ready to go for training camp but will miss organized team activities and the minicamp in June.

Claiborne said he will be ready for training camp.

"They sacrificed a lot to come down to get me, but I feel like I'm worth it," Claiborne said. "I know my talents. I know what kind of guy they're looking for. They want me to come in and play right away and be a lock down guy, and I feel like in the right hands, which I am, I feel like I can come in right away and do that."

Jones said Claiborne is the continuation of a long process of trying to improve a horrid secondary and Cowboys pass defense which gave up more passing yards the past two seasons than any time in team history. The Cowboys signed Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million contract in the offseason and now have added best defensive player in the draft.

"We've been needing to work on the secondary," Jones said. "When Wade (Phillips) was (coach), I talked to Wade about it. This is not something that's new. We had hoped upon hope and certainly (defensive coordinator) Rob (Ryan) had hoped with the head of the pack that Terence (Newman) could really be what we wanted him to be. So obviously that didn't work out. That's just the way it is. But I like the way we've come back."

The Cowboys now have a crowded secondary with Carr, Claiborne, former starter Mike Jenkins, a 2008 first-round pick and former Pro Bowler, to go along with nickel back Orlando Scandrick.

Coach Jason Garrett said all will play, although the Cowboys could move Jenkins before the season. He said Claiborne is a difference maker worth the gamble.

"Cornerback is a premium position," Garrett said. "We feel to add a guy like this was the right thing to do. He has instincts. He has vision. He has the ability to make plays. He is a game-changing playmaker. He can make plays on the ball and change the game. He is also an outstanding kickoff returner. That is certainly another part of why he is an attractive player."

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."

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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