New York Jets: What are the expectations for Morris Claiborne?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

Morris Claiborne enlisted his services with the New York Jets in 2017 free agency, but what can Gang Green expect from the cornerback?

There was a time when New York Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne seemed destined for NFL stardom. The sixth-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, Claiborne was an All-American at LSU and winner of the Jim Thorpe Award in 2011, an honor given to college football’s best defensive back. It seemed like the sky was the limit for the Shreveport, LA  native as he embarked on his pro career.

After a fine rookie season in which he played in 15 of 16 games for Dallas, the injury bug has hit Claiborne — and hit him hard. In his five-year NFL career, Claiborne has performed in only 47 of 80 possible contests. So why did Gang Green sign him to a one-year, $5 million pact back in March?

First and foremost, they desperately need help at cornerback. When their current depth chart consists of Buster Skrine, Marcus Williams, Juston Burris and rookie Jeremy Clark at the position, the Jets could use all the help they can get. Let’s not forget — New York owned one of the worst secondaries in the league in 2016.

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Secondly, Claiborne is still just 27 years old, so his prime years have not vanished yet. He should still have some upside. In fact, he was playing quite well for the Cowboys last season before a severe groin injury (sports hernia) ended his 2016 campaign after seven games. Widely considered a bust among NFL circles before last year, Claiborne showed flashes of the player NFL organizations expected him to be coming out of LSU.

This signing was a smart move by general manager Mike Maccagnan because of the terms of the contract. The Jets are making Claiborne prove himself by committing to him for just one year at a bargain salary. If — and this is a huge if — Claiborne can remain healthy this coming season, New York will be getting a highly motivated cornerback with a lot to prove. Combine that with his talent level and the Jets could be looking at a real steal via the free agent market.

So what are the expectations for the 5-11, 192-pounder in 2017? At this moment, he is a favorite to start, along with Skrine, at one of the cornerback slots. The key to everything is very simple: Can Claiborne stay healthy? Any expectations would be based on that first and foremost. If healthy, Claiborne should provide a much-needed upgrade in New York’s defensive backfield.

Claiborne has already had issues with his knee, hamstring, groin, ankle and wrist. He is at the crossroads in his career. Claiborne needs to remain healthy and productive to increase his value among NFL teams while also helping the Jets shore up a very porous secondary.

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From New York’s perspective, it’s worth the gamble. Now can the oft-injured Claiborne make the gamble pay off?