Morris Claiborne vs Fletcher Cox: Which NFC East Rookie Has the Brighter Future?
I'm not pretending that this is necessarily a square comparison. I realize that, logically, Dallas Cowboys rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne probably has higher expectations than Philadelphia Eagles rookie defensive lineman Fletcher Cox. That's always the case when you're the first defensive player chosen in the draft.
Yet Cox was selected only six spots later, and both players were hot enough commodities that their new teams traded up to secure them in Round 1 this spring.
And thus, I'd still like to break it down in an attempt to predict which former SEC star will have a better NFL career.
Who is the better prospect?
Both were All-Americans as juniors, but Claiborne was a unanimous choice. He managed 11 interceptions the last two years despite being avoided like the plague by opposing quarterbacks. He isn't big, but he plays big. I find he's more physical than he's given credit for.
Most importantly, he's not all about blazing speed. That's big for me, because few top-tier veteran cornerbacks are. His technique isn't perfect yet, but he's on the right track. And if he becomes an All-Pro corner, it'll be because of that technical prowess.
Cox, on the other hand, is more of a physical marvel. Dude posted 4.78 40-yard dash despite weighing only two pounds shy of 300. He ran track in high school. He can rush off the edge or create loads of pressure inside. That's great, but it also means he could wear down faster.
Cox is a versatile freak, and he's almost a full year younger than Claiborne, so there might be more room for development. It's believed that he was only beginning to scratch the surface at Mississippi State in 2011.
Ultimately, though, I feel as though we have to project with Cox, who is still raw, more than with Claiborne. That's why—despite the fact that Cox might actually have the ability to make more of an impact early—Claiborne is still a much safer top-end prospect.
Who has the better situation?
Fair or not, success is almost always linked to circumstances. While Claiborne will have a chance to start right off the bat in Dallas, you could make the argument that such a baptism by fire could have a negative effect. Rookie cornerbacks almost always struggle, and this is one hell of a tough division to play corner in.
From afar, Cox would appear to be in a tougher situation, but defensive line coach Jim Washburn has always abided by a healthy rotation. The Eagles felt strongly enough about Cox to trade up and pick him despite already possessing a slew of quality ends and tackles. This indicates to me that Washburn and Co. will be using him quite commonly from the get-go.
Both players will be supported well. Claiborne benefits from playing opposite Brandon Carr, while Cox will join what is arguably the most dangerous pass rush in football.
Which rookie has a brighter future?
The concern for Claiborne might be the length of his leash. The pressure to win in Dallas is almost unbearable, and the coaching staff might not be as patient as it should be before benching Claiborne in favor of Mike Jenkins or Orlando Scandrick.
The concern for Cox is still a lack of reps. Cullen Jenkins is being paid a lot of money, and the underrated Mike Patterson is still locked in as the other starter inside. On the outside, there's Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Brandon Graham and Darryl Tapp—plus rookie second-round pick Vinny Curry. If Cox struggles early, he could become lost in the shuffle.
Beyond this year, though, I'd actually argue that Cox is in a slightly better spot. Jenkins will be 32 next offseason, and Cole and Babin will be in their 30s as well. Cox will lead Washburn's next wave, and he has the ability to become a Warren Sapp-like presence up front.
What I'm essentially arguing is that their ceilings are at about the same height. However, Cox's circumstances might be slightly better, while Claiborne's floor is significantly higher. If you're a gambling man who wants immediate results, go with Cox. If you want a safer bet and have some patience, Claiborne's your guy.
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