For a brief moment every year, the NFL draft provides football fans around the world with a glimmer of hope. No matter how poorly your favorite team performed last year, a single pick could change the entire course of the franchise. Things don’t always work out, though. Just ask Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones about that.
Ahead of the 2012 draft, the Dallas Cowboys traded up to the sixth spot in order to select Morris Claiborne; that decision, however, turned out to be a mistake. Not only did the defensive back blow off his Wonderlic test ahead of the draft, but he also turned out to be an NFL bust.
Morris Claiborne looked like a legitimate talent ahead of the NFL draft
These days, the name Morris Claiborne probably doesn’t mean much to the average NFL fan. Before he ever reached the pros, though, the defensive back looked like a legitimate talent.
Claiborne made headlines in high school as both a football player and a sprinter, and after graduation, he took his talents to LSU. While he didn’t see much action as a freshman—he only played in seven games and recorded a total of seven tackles—the defensive back still had plenty of time to come into his own.
During his sophomore campaign with the Tigers, Claiborne recorded 37 total tackles and five interceptions. As a junior, he took another leap forward. He finished the season with 51 total tackles and six interceptions, earning First-Team All-American honors and the Jim Thorpe Award as the country’s top defensive back.
On the back of that success, Claiborne entered the 2012 NFL draft. Ahead of the big day, however, he scored a four out of 50 on the Wonderlic test. As documented by NFL.com, the defensive back later admitted that he “pretty much blew the test off” and left most of the questions blank because they had nothing to do with football.
Morris Claiborne went from sixth overall pick to a Dallas Cowboys draft bust
That Wonderlic test score didn’t scare Jerry Jones away. When the 2012 draft rolled around, he traded up to obtain the sixth overall pick and promptly used it to bring Claiborne to Big D.
Although the defensive back saw a decent amount of action as a rookie, injuries started to curtail his playing time. He only appeared in 10 games as an NFL sophomore. That would further decrease to a grand total of four appearances in 2014 as the defensive back slipped down the depth chart and tore a tendon in his knee.
“Is he what we had hoped for at this point when we drafted him with the sixth overall pick, giving up the [second-round] pick to go up to the sixth pick to get him? No,” Jones said of his defensive back in 2014, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. “But he’s going to be a good player.”
In MacMahon’s opinion, though, the general manager was just being diplomatic. As far as the writer was concerned, Claiborne was, at least at the time, “the biggest bust in Cowboys’ history.”
When push came to shove, Claiborne spent five seasons with the Cowboys before joining the New York Jets. He played 30 games across two campaigns in the Big Apple and suited up for eight games with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019 before calling it a career.
Jerry Jones’ draft history isn’t a complete disaster, though
It’s safe to say Jerry Jones doesn’t have the best reputation as a general manager. When it comes to the draft, though, he’s actually put together some decent hauls for the Cowboys.
Earlier in 2021, Timo Riske of Pro Football Focus evaluated how well each NFL team has done over the past several drafts. While he used a few different metrics—wins above replacement, the overall number of the pick, and the value of each individual position, for example—the Cowboys rated pretty well across the board. Even if you cynically want to argue that the Cowboys general manager is only listening to the scouts under him, it somewhat flies in the face of the “Jerry Jones going rogue and making stupid decisions” narrative.
Part of the joy of the draft, however, is watching the uncertainty unfold. Will Jones make a wise decision and get his Cowboys back on the path to Super Bowl glory? Will he go with his gut, ignore the experts, and draft another metaphorical Morris Claiborne?
At this point, all anyone can do is watch and see what happens.