2012 NFL Draft: Could Morris Claiborne fall to the Jaguars?

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 05: Morris Claiborne #17 of the LSU Tigers makes an interception over Brad Smelley #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second half of the game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 5, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)


It's not as ridiculous as you might think.

When draft talk began to swirl near the end of last season, Morris Claiborne was considered a lock to go in the top five picks. Many talent evaluators confirmed Claiborne was the top cornerback in the draft. His coverage skills are outstanding, and he added to the allure by reportedly running the 40-yard dash in under 4.40 seconds at his pro day today.

Though the Jaguars have already signed Aaron Ross and brought back Rashean Mathis, the cornerback position is still far from settled. Mathis is recovering from a torn ACL, and Ross is more of a swing backup than a starter. William Middleton is a backup at this point, and Drew Coleman is strictly a slot cornerback. Besides Derek Cox, the future at corner is murky for Jacksonville.

Claiborne used to seem like a lock to be gone by the seventh pick, but here's the thing: draft talk is just that: talk. Real life is usually much, much different. Claiborne could be there for the Jaguars to draft with the seventh pick, and I promise you, I'm not crazy.

I personally see Morris Claiborne as an elite cornerback prospect, but there's absolutely no guarantee the teams drafting above the Jaguars feel the same way. It's not all that common for a corner to be drafted in the top six; since the start of the Super Bowl era in 1966, only 21 defensive backs have been taken that high, and not all of them were corners. The last corner drafted in the top six was Pacman Jones in 2005, and before him it was Terence Newman in 2003. That doesn't suggest it's impossible for Claiborne to go that high, but it does suggest that maybe we should look into alternate possibilities.

With the Jaguars drafting seventh, we need to find six players that could potentially be selected ahead of them in order for Claiborne to drop. Three players are a virtual lock to go in the top six picks: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, and USC left tackle Matt Kalil. Those three players will most likely go to the Colts, Redskins, and Vikings, respectively. Besides them, who else might have to be off the board for Claiborne to slide?

At the end of 2011, Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill was not considered a player with any chance of going in the top six picks. Since then, the hype train has begun to chug along, and teams who have struck out in their pursuits of veterans like Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn may have no recourse but to turn to the draft.

The Dolphins seem like a likely landing spot for Tannehill, but who knows? The Browns may fall in love with him and snag him with the fourth pick. A mystery team (Chiefs? Bills?) may fall head over heels for him and trade up in front of Miami for a chance at the former Aggie star. There's absolutely no guarantee Tannehill will go in the first six picks, but it definitely could happen.

Alabama's Trent Richardson is a special talent at running back; many people liken him to Adrian Peterson or Steven Jackson. Though the running back position has been devalued in recent years, Richardson is the kind of player that could buck that trend.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have the fifth pick, have made it no secret they want to be a run-first team, and adding a player like Richardson would go a long way toward solidifying that identity. In addition, the Bucs signed cornerback Eric Wright to a five-year, $37.5 million free agent contract, and though it doesn't eliminate the chances of them taking Claiborne, it likely diminishes them, if only slightly.

Justin Blackmon is another player that could end up going in the top six. The dynamic wide receiver from Oklahoma State reminds some of a faster Anquan Boldin, and could be a difference-maker for a team in need of weapons. The Rams seem to make a ton of sense for Blackmon; he would provide quarterback Sam Bradford with a dependable weapon and help make their offense more explosive. The Browns could also be interested in Blackmon, and I wouldn't count the Bucs out of anything.

Stanford guard David DeCastro is an elite prospect, and usually an elite prospect would be a no-brainer to go in the top six. There's only one problem: he played guard in college. Unless he's being moved to another position, the value of a guard is likely not high enough to be worth such a high pick.

However, DeCastro may be able to play center, and The Sporting News' Russ Lande even believes "he could be an excellent right tackle." That may be worth a top-six pick; the Rams could use a dependable center or right tackle in addition to a starter at guard, and adding DeCastro would help solidify what was a shaky offensive line last year.

There are plenty of other possibilities to go in the top six, including defensive ends Quinton Coples of North Carolina and Melvin Ingram of South Carolina, defensive tackles Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State and Dontari Poe of Memphis, offensive tackles Riley Reiff of Iowa and Jonathan Martin of Stanford, and even possibly wide receivers Michael Floyd of Notre Dame and Kendall Wright of Baylor. Teams fall in love with players all the time; there's no reason a team selecting ahead of the Jaguars couldn't fall in love with someone besides Claiborne.

Just because I love Claiborne doesn't mean Gene Smith does either, but I have to think he'd see the value in adding a player like Claiborne to what is already close to an elite defense. Will Morris Claiborne definitely be available with the seventh pick in the draft? No. COULD he be available? Absolutely, and the chances of it happening definitely look more promising than they did a month ago. Let's hope things fall that way, and that Claiborne is wearing a Jaguars hat come April 26th.

1. Indianapolis Colts - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
2. Washington Redskins - Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
3. Minnesota Vikings - Matt Kalil, OT, USC
4. Cleveland Browns - Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
6. St. Louis Rams - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
7. Jacksonville Jaguars - Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

It's time to let the hope-fest begin.

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