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Cowboys pull stunner with Claiborne trade, pick

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Posted April 26, 2012 @ 9:38 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

Raise your hand if you had the Cowboys leapfrogging seven teams to draft Morris Claiborne. Those with your hands up: Liars.

The Cowboys did not at any point speak with Claiborne throughout the draft process. Not once.

They were enamored with his ability, but how a Jerry Jones-led team was able to zip its collective lips might go down as one of the great draft folk stories ever.

Claiborne. Brandon Carr. Man defense, anyone? Feeling like blitzing, Rob Ryan? You can now.

The big mystery now is what to do with Mike Jenkins. The first-round pick from three years ago might not be exactly expendable, but it would not be shocking if he’s moved. With the big money the team paid to Carr and Orlando Scandrick and the top-10 cash they’ll pay out to Claiborne, it’s going to get a little hairy — especially with that whole salary-cap snafu.

Claiborne is Nolan Nawrocki’s third-rated player in this class behind Andrew Luck and Trent Richardson. It’s no shock the Cowboys liked him — all 32 teams did — but it’s surprising they would give up their second-round pick to move up and select him. They liked him that much at a position they are, in theory, heavily invested in.

Now, the question is: Do you put Claiborne back on kickoffs, having seen what Patrick Peterson did on punts a year ago? It’d be tempting. Claiborne averaged 25 yards a return his first time doing it last season in college and took one back for 99 yards against West Virginia. The Cowboys really lacked in this area a year ago (tied for 20th) but could be special if they let Claiborne and Dez Bryant return kicks and punts, respectively.

That said, Claiborne was brought in mainly for his coverage ability. Per Nawrocki, Claiborne has the long arms you want to press with, the field speed (faster than his timed speed) and the ball skills to be a game-changing corner in Dallas. And the Cowboys know their good corners.

This allows Ryan — armed with a full offseason to implement his complex scheme — to press and blitz and play man coverage as he wanted to do last year but often couldn’t because of talent shortcomings and communication breakdowns. You want to cover DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in Philly, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in New York, and Robert Griffin III and his vertical attack in D.C.? You have to cover and pressure quarterbacks. End of story.

What a stunning move by Jones and Co. And one that could end up being a huge score for the Cowboys.

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