2012 NFL DRAFT: CORNERBACKS

A position-by-position look at prospects in this year’s NFL Draft. This entry: Cornerbacks.

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INDIANAPOLIS –Having played football for more than a century, LSU has earned a reputation for a few different things through the years.

A reputation earned recently is as a producer of talent in the defensive backfield.  It is a reputation well-earned in the immediate past and well-represented this year in Morris Claiborne.

Claiborne is ranked among the top players in the draft regardless of position by many observers, and his name is likely to be called near the top of the televised proceedings on April 26.

A two-year starter and three-year player in Baton Rouge, Claiborne contributed greatly to the success of his program, one that earned an undefeated record until the BCS Championship game against Alabama.  LSU suffered a 21-0 defeat to end its hopes for a third BCS title since 2003.

Claiborne is perched to join fellow Tiger defenders in the NFL.  Those who recently handed over the purple-and-gold collegiate attire for NFL duds include Pittsburgh's Ryan Clark, Washington's LaRon Landry, the New York Giants Corey Webster and Arizona's Patrick Peterson. 

According to Claiborne, it was Peterson who dubbed LSU as DBU (Defensive Back University).

"When we started having DBs just playing unbelievable, from the young guys to the older, Patrick actually gave us the name, and we just kept it going," said Claiborne.  "I really don't know (how the school has become a hotbed for cornerbacks).  We get some good talent in there.  Guys who've seen previous guys do it, they want to be the best.  So it's making them work even harder."

Claiborne worked hard enough to distinguish himself as a top talent.  He started 26 games over his last two seasons and had 33 appearances overall.  Claiborne had 95 tackles, 12 passes defensed, 11 interceptions, two quarterback hits and one fumble recovered during his career.

This past season, he won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, following the path of Peterson who gained the honor in 2010.  Claiborne was a consensus All-America choice who led the nation with 173 return yards on six interceptions.  He was voted the SEC Defensive Player-of-the-Year by conference head coaches.  Claiborne and sophomore Tyrann Mathieu each earned first-team All-America honors by the Associated Press, giving LSU the first cornerback tandem in history.

Claiborne will be measured against NFL receivers this coming fall and in the future.  For now, he is linked with Peterson, and it was Peterson who attracted him to LSU.

"He was my host on my visit," said Claiborne.  "So he was always like, 'You've got to come play corner.'  Every day at practice, that's what he was telling me, 'You've got to at least come try it. You're a corner!  You're a corner!'  I took his advice, and the coaches' as well.  It turned out well for me. … It took me a while.  But the coaches and the older players on the team, they stuck with me.  They didn't give up on me.

"Growing up, I was an offensive guy.  (I) didn't play too much on defense.  I never really played corner until I got to college. … I was recruited as a receiver. … When I got to college, I was still not trying to get on the defensive side of the ball.  But Patrick (Peterson) kept pulling and pulling, so I went over and tried it for a day or two and ended up liking it.  So I stayed on this side."

He played as a reserve in seven games as a true freshman in 2009, then opened 12 games in 2010.  In his first season as a starter, Claiborne intercepted five passes. 

One player with an insight on Claiborne is former teammate Reuben Randle.  Randle went against Claiborne and Peterson in practice at LSU.  In noting their styles, he gives a nod to his most recent teammate.

"I'm going to have to go with Morris Claiborne," said Randle.  "I went against him in practice every day.  He's a very good athlete.  (He's) very competitive, very long and fast and strong.  He worked me each and every day in practice and we got the best out of each other. … We brought the best out of each other.  We made each other better.  That's why I can put my confidence in him that he's going to do well for whatever teams that drafts him.

"They're (Claiborne and Peterson) both quick, fast guys with long arms, so you've got to keep their hands off you.  (If) they get their hands on you, you're pretty much done.  They're comparable in that way."

Claiborne cites his speed as a key and believes he can re-route receivers into the defense rather than getting physical.  With experience at nickel, he believes he excels in man coverage.

"I watch a lot of Darrelle Revis.  He's one of the best corners doing it right now.  I admire the way he plays," said Claiborne.

After successful seasons at LSU, Claiborne is not guaranteed the team selecting him will have the same recent success he enjoyed.  It is not an issue for a player looking to join the next level.

"My job is to come in and try to make the team better.  That's what I'm going to do," said Claiborne.  "I'm going to work and try to make the team better. … I know the NFL is a whole different level than in college.  I'll have to come in and pick up on that.  I believe I can."

LOOKING AT THE 2012 NFL DRAFT'S CORNERBACKS

THE LAST SIX

The last six cornerbacks drafted by the Colts:

2011:  Chris Rucker, sixth round, Michigan State

2010:  Ray Fisher, seventh round, Indiana

2010:  Kevin Thomas, third round, Southern Cal

2009:  Jarraud Powers, third round, Auburn

2007:  Michael Coe, fifth round, Alabama State

2007:  Dante Hughes, third round, California

THIS YEAR'S DRAFT

An alphabetical list of cornerbacks expected to be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft (*-denotes underclassman):

Dwight Bentley, Louisiana-Lafayette

Robert Blanton, Notre Dame

Morris Claiborne, LSU*

Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska

Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt

Asa Jackson, Cal Poly

Janoris Jenkins, Florida

Leonard Johnson, Iowa State

Coryell Judie, Texas A&M

Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama*

Chase Minnifield, Virginia

Ryan Steed, Furman      

Note:  The content in this story and in the series of draft-eligible players that appears on Colts.com in no way reflects the position of the Indianapolis Colts.

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