PFF and ESPN recently released a list (In$ider) of one free agent that every NFL team should sign. Their pick for the Titans was Morris Claiborne. Here is what they had to say about their choice:
Jason McCourty was the top corner in Tennessee in 2016, and he was average at best for much of the year, allowing three touchdowns and 703 yards in coverage. Behind him, depth was a problem, and the team's top four cornerbacks surrendered 14 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, giving up 2,458 receiving yards between them. Claiborne finally showed off his first-round talent this season for the Cowboys and was beaten for only one touchdown across 406 snaps before injury derailed his season. He would represent a gamble, but one that could pay off big.
- Age: 27 (will turn 28 on 2/7/2018)
- Height: 5’-11”
- Weight: 192 lbs
- College: LSU
- Experience: 5 years
Drafted in the 1st round (#6 overall) in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Cowboys
Morris Claiborne Career Stats.csv
Claiborne came in to the NFL with massive expectations after the Cowboys traded up to take him 6th overall in the 2012 Draft. (While we're here it's worth noting that Dallas gave up picks #14 and #45 to move up to #6) He was considered by most to be the top corner in the class and some even considered him the top defender overall. The Cowboys signed Brandon Carr that same offseason in the hopes of overhauling their corner group similar to what most expect the Titans to do over next couple months. Hopefully the Titans achieve greater results than Dallas did. The 2012 Cowboys finished in the bottom half of the league in every significant statistical category as both Claiborne and Carr struggled at times. Injuries were an issue from the beginning as Mo missed his rookie OTAs and mini camp while recovering from wrist surgery and then sprained an MCL in practice that held him out of part of the preseason. He was able to stay on the field for most of 2012 though, only sitting out one game due to a concussion late in the year.
Claiborne suffered a dislocated shoulder during the first game of the year but was able to play through the injury over the next few weeks without missing any starts. He picked up a hamstring injury in Week 8 which cost him two weeks, then tried to return to play in Week 11 only to re-injure the hamstring knocking him out of the lineup until the final game of the season.
His 2014 season was even shorter as a torn patellar tendon in his left knee ended his year in Week 4.
2015 was a little better as he made it up to Week 9 before picking up a sprained ankle and another pulled hamstring which cost him two games. He returned to play one full game, but then in his second game back re-injured the hamstring again and was out the rest of the season.
After declining his fifth year option prior to the start of the 2015 campaign, the Cowboys signed Claiborne to a 1 year, $3M deal to give him another try in 2016. It was looking like a steal early last season too as Claiborne finally started to perform like the shutdown corner he was billed to be back in 2012, but this time it was a groin injury that took him out of the lineup in Week 8. He would miss the rest of the regular season before returning to play in the Cowboys-Packers playoff game.
Here is what NFL.com had to say about Claiborne going in to the 2012 NFL Draft:
Claiborne is an aggressive cover man who likes to use his tall frame and long arms to get up in the face of receivers and shock them at the line of scrimmage to disrupt timing. When he punches, he doesn't just get his hands there, he makes his presence felt. He can run with his back to the ball at the receiver's hip using a press/bail technique and looks natural running with his man in-phase while still keeping an eye towards the ball. Claiborne is such a gifted athlete with uncommon body control that he runs with his man fluidly up and down the field while still keeping the wherewithal to break off at any time and get involved in plays coming across him. As a zone defender, he is simply an explosive athlete with length and can keep plays in front of him and react quick enough to meet the man at the ball. He is physical in run support and will have no problem coming up to tackle from the edge.
Claiborne is such a gifted athlete that he can often times get lazy in his technique. Working in off-man coverage, he has a tendency to get his pad level high in his back pedal and delude the explosiveness that makes him so effective out of his breaks.
How Claiborne Fits the Titans
Claiborne is your classic boom-or-bust free agent. There is a chance that a team signs him to a cheap deal and look like geniuses when he comes in and finally is able to stay healthy. Maybe a new approach with a new training staff could work wonders with him. After all, Brian Orakpo has stayed healthy here after suffering through several injury riddled seasons in Washington [knocks on ALL of the wood] thanks in part to a different approach to training in the offseason. There is also a chance though that a team signs him and he continues to pick up injury after injury sabotaging your team’s depth at corner.
There really isn't much analysis I can provide for the injury situation, besides “wow that's a lot of red flags”, so let's look at what else the Titans would be getting from an investment in Claiborne. You can count Falcons assistant coach Jerome Henderson (Mo’s position coach his first 4 years in Dallas) as a fan:
“If he is healthy, and when he plays, he’s a unique, special talent,” Atlanta Falcons assistant coach Jerome Henderson, the secondary coach for the Cowboys during Claiborne’s first four years, told The Times prior to the Super Bowl LI in Houston. “He does things and has things you can’t coach. He was born with that; that’s a gift he has. If he can stay healthy, I still think his best games are ahead of him,” Henderson said. “He is going to get healthy and he’s going to finish his career off like he wants.”
Here is some of what Henderson was talking about. Claiborne is at his best when left man-to-man in press coverage. He is physical and tracks his receiver well downfield. Here is a good example of this as he is locked up with A.J. Green on this play. He tracks him down the field and then makes a great play on the ball to break it up.
Here is another example against another elite wide receiver. This time he is matched up with Odell Beckham Jr. and does a great job of being physical without drawing the flag and again makes a great play as the ball is arriving.
Here Claiborne is tasked with covering Jordy Nelson on a slant route and shows off his great change of direction ability.
The next play sees Claiborne in press against DGB. Watch him jam him and completely disrupt his route.
Claiborne has more than enough speed to run with receivers down field. Here he is matched up with Kevin White. The Bears tried to go deep on this match up several times in this game and could never get White over on Claiborne.
Here is that matchup again. This time he pushes White’s route to the sidelines and uses it as an extra defender.
Claiborne is also a sure tackler in the open field. Here he comes up to make a nice tackle for a short loss against Vernon Davis.
This time Claiborne is sitting in a cover 2 zone and comes up to make a really nice stick on Jamison Crowder for a short gain.
If you want an on-field criticism of Claiborne, it is that he can get a little grabby. Here he is working against Green again, but the grab on Green’s break draws a DPI call.
Similar to what I said in my review of A.J. Bouye, give me the guy who is too physical rather than the guy who is not physical enough. Claiborne and Bouye have a lot of on-field similarities in my opinion. Mo is probably more physically gifted, but obviously Bouye has been far more healthy during his career.
Claiborne is the ultimate boom-or-bust signing. Most Cowboys reporters and fans seem to think he is going to be able to be had for a 1 year deal similar to the one he signed last offseason. Given the Titans cap situation, I wouldn’t hate the idea of giving him a 1 year, $5M deal to come in with a team option for a 2nd year at the same price. That gives the Titans an out if he comes in and continues to pick up injuries, but also gives them team control if he turns in to a star while they work out a long-term extension. If the Titans do sign Claiborne, I hope it is in addition to a guy like Logan Ryan because we should absolutely not be pinning all of our cornerback hopes on a guy with his injury track record.
Previously covered Free Agents in this series:
Bubble Boys (players on the roster bubble)