First-round picks can set a team up for success or set it back half a decade. Morris Claiborne has turned out to be a decent selection, but he doesn't have the value of safety Mark Barron.
Barron has made his presence felt in the semi-revitalized Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. The Bucs made themselves ineligible for the full-blown label after giving up 510 yards to Eli Manning. However, there's still been plenty of improvement over the 2011 version.
There is no doubting that the Dallas Cowboys have most of the markings of a potent defense. DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and Brandon Carr provide a veteran core of playmakers that any defense would envy. However, drafting Barron would have helped complete the defense more than Claiborne for the following reasons.
Barron Loves to Get Physical
Safeties have had their hands tied by a string of NFL rules aimed at opening up the game. That doesn't mean that defensive backs can't still find ways to dislodge receivers from the ball.
Need some proof? Just take a look at what he did to hardened veteran Steve Smith. It wasn't very nice. That's an element that the Cowboys seem to be missing. Ware scares quarterbacks, but Dallas doesn't have that Ray Lewis-type of fiery leader that inspires everyone else around him to raise his game. Barron isn't quite as vocal, but he lays people out and exudes intensity.
The Safety Position Allows Barron to Make Plays All Over the Field
Unless Claiborne grows into the next Darrelle Revis, he's unlikely to have the type of impact that Barron can as a safety. The top corners can lock down the opposition's best wide receiver. However, the safety can make plays ranging from tackles behind the line of scrimmage to knocking down long balls.
Barron has already proven he can support the run with his 13 tackles (Claiborne has six). To demonstrate his versatility, he also is more than capable of breaking up passes with four defended. In comparison, Claiborne has one.
The Cowboys Needed a Safety More Than Another Cornerback
The signing of Carr made Claiborne a luxury pick, and not in a good way. A team can get by with a luxury selection when they don't have glaring holes. Coming into training camp, Dallas could not confidentially say that they believed Barry Church was going to be the answer.
Who Should the Dallas Cowboys Have Drafted With the Benefit of Hindsight?
A defense can skate by with one dominant corner much more easily than it can with a mediocre strong safety.
Safeties can erase mistakes made by those in front of them. As mentioned earlier, the best case scenario for the corner is to take out one passing option. If you already have $50 million tied up in that duty, why waste such a high pick on a supporting position?