NFL Draft 2012: Why Morris Claiborne Would Make Cleveland Browns Defense Elite

Brian MurtaughAnalyst IFebruary 21, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 3: Morris Claiborne #17 of the LSU Tigers returns an interception for a touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs during the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on December 3, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns defensive unit was one of the biggest surprises in the AFC throughout the 2011 NFL season.

Dick Jauron headed a Cleveland unit that was returning with only six starters from the 2010 season, and placed two rookies on the starting defensive line from the very first day of training camp. The Browns had not had any type of consistency from years past, and were adding pieces to a puzzle that seemed far from being completed.

The Browns shocked the football world by finishing the 2011 campaign with the second-ranked pass defense in the entire NFL, and were in the top five in points against for the entire season. Fast-forward to 2012, and the Browns defense does not seem to be that far away from remaining at the top of the National Football League.

Enter the 2012 NFL Draft, and the possibility of drafting Morris Claiborne.

Even though Cleveland ranked so high against the pass last season, that does not mean they could not improve in 2012. Sheldon Brown and Dimitri Patterson's days as Browns may be numbered in the coming seasons, while Joe Haden has continued to be one of the most feared corners in the AFC North.

Claiborne is, without a doubt, the most elite defensive talent in the 2012 NFL draft, and could serve as an extreme complement to Joe Haden in Cleveland's secondary. Haden's numbers were down in 2012, as teams looked toward facing Brown or Patterson, but with Claiborne on the opposite side, opponents would be forced to face an elite corner on every down.

Throughout college, teams would intentionally throw away from Claiborne because of his big play ability and natural talent to seek the ball in the air. That type of playmaking ability led to a big year for Tyrann Mathieu and the other members of LSU's secondary.

The duo of Claiborne and Haden could lead to big years for players like Brown and Patterson, who would likely begin to cover the third and fourth receivers on passing downs.

The addition of Claiborne could also help the Browns' defenders against the rush because of his ability to play man-coverage against the second receivers on opposing offenses (assuming that Haden would remain the No.1 corner). That type of versatility would give Cleveland the option to place more defenders in the box, and try to improve on their 30th ranked rush defense from last season.

Great NFL defenses always seem to have their own reputation and abilities that set them apart from other teams. The addition of Claiborne would make it very difficult for teams to throw the ball against the Browns, and possibly give Cleveland the best depth at corner in the entire NFL.

Claiborne is reportedly on the list of five prospects the Browns are considering with the fourth overall pick in the draft. The other names include Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, and Ryan Tannehill.