The Dallas Cowboys made a huge splash on Day 1 of the 2012 NFL Draft by trading up from the No. 14 to the No. 6 overall pick to take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. Considering the Cowboys landed former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Brandon Carr in free agency last month, Dallas has just shored up its top two cornerback spots for the next decade. However, Dallas gave up a little too much to trade up for Claiborne (second-round pick) and the Cowboys still don’t have a new defensive lineman, which is the team’s most pressing area of need.
Claiborne is arguably the second-best player in this year’s draft behind Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who was taken first overall by the Indianapolis Colts. Several last-minute trades in the top 10 picks allowed Claiborne to fall from the No. 3 to the No. 6 pick where Dallas swooped in to snatch him up.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said in February he was only focusing on defensive backs while preparing for the draft and told Claiborne, “I can’t tell you how excited I am for this season,” right after the pick was made.
Indeed, Claiborne makes the Cowboys’ secondary instantly better, see: LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, the Arizona Cardinals’ 2011 top 5 pick. However, Dallas’ defensive line is still a one-man show featuring tackle Jay Ratliff.
Ryan and Co. are obviously planning on working in a young player like Sean Lissemore to make the defensive line better from within, which is a high-risk/high-reward gamble. If it pays off, the Claiborne pick becomes one of the best in recent memory and Dallas’ secondary goes from being a liability to an asset.
The Cowboys’ second-round pick proved to be a stellar one two years ago when star linebacker Sean Lee became the newest player on the team. Dallas is still without a defensive lineman and now the second round won’t be the place the Cowboys find one. As mentioned, the move to trade up for Claiborne was good for several reasons, but not so good for others.
The primary con is the fact Mike Jenkins’ fate is sealed. The Claiborne pick ensures Jenkins is done after the 2012 season – if he lasts that long – and Orlando Scandrick is unfortunately here to stay after signing a six-year extension right before the 2011 season began. Of course, there’s no way Dallas can keep Carr, Claiborne and Jenkins on the same team for more than a season, but relying on Scandrick as the slot corner is not comforting in the slightest.
Hopefully Ryan and his staff know something we don’t; maybe Jenkins won’t ever be 100 percent healthy again after his shoulder surgery this off-season. If that’s the case, then moving up to take Claiborne is brilliant. If not, Jenkins might sign a $50 million deal somewhere else next off-season and become a perennial Pro Bowler. As mentioned, the move is a very high-risk/high-reward gamble.
The question now remains: when will Dallas shore up its defensive line? The third round of the draft is the most intriguing option right now, assuming the Cowboys don’t trade up again. Regardless of where/when it happens, the Cowboys must upgrade on the defensive line in the next two days.