At a time when the Dallas Cowboys should be looking to take significant strides toward contention, owner Jerry Jones clearly decided to gamble in the first round of the NFL draft in New York City on Thursday night.
The selection of Morris Claiborne, the top cornerback prospect available, might look great if you leave it at that. After all, veteran Terence Newman was released this offseason, and it’s not like remaining corners Mike Jenkins or Orlando Scandrick have done much to instill confidence in a coaching staff that they are long-term answers as starters in the NFL.
Thursday night we learned exactly how low that confidence is.
Never mind that the New York Giants, defending Super Bowl champs I’ll add, won a championship with some pretty average cornerbacks. It’s clear that New York beat the New England Patriots for reasons mostly pertaining to shutting down a weak running game and then rushing the passer.
But the Cowboys really can’t rush the passer very well, especially not beyond outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
The Dallas run defense gave up 4.4 yards per carry in 2011, and that total doesn’t look to be heading down simply because they added the best cornerback in the draft.
Don’t get me wrong, Claiborne will be a good cornerback. But even if he’s a great corner, this doesn’t mean a whole lot so long as the Cowboys continue to keep their focus on only skill position players.
Claiborne certainly brings skills to the return game, an area the Cowboys have needed help with for some time.
But to include a second-round pick for Claiborne is where this move becomes very pricey down the road. The Cowboys need numerous good football players and don’t seem to be in position to reduce their selections in favor of landing fewer players who might be better.
Are they better in the short term?
Claiborne’s predecessor at LSU was Patrick Peterson, the fifth selection in last year’s draft. Peterson had his struggles as a rookie for the Cardinals in 2011, and you can bet that Peterson is a physical upgrade over Claiborne in almost all respects.
Peterson had two picks last season.
Claiborne should be a strong addition for the Cowboys, but Dallas still leaves numerous holes wide open and now won’t be in position for too much more than depth-chart additions and camp bodies moving forward.
It wasn’t too long ago that Newman was known for shutting down opposing receivers and posting remarkably low touchdown receptions given up game after game, but it didn’t really make much difference in the win column.
Hopefully adding Claiborne’s closing speed can allow for some creative changes in defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s aggressive 3-4 scheme. At Claiborne’s size, stopping the run probably won’t be among those, unfortunately.
Just remember that Dallas is replacing Newman again, possibly a gain of little on the field in 2012. Free agent acquisition Brandon Carr is in this loop as well.
Also, remember that the Cowboys still can’t rush the passer that well and are no lock to keep Romo healthy this coming season.
Claiborne will mean more and more to the Cowboys over the next several seasons, but I would not expect too much right away.