SAN DIEGO — How long will it take Mo Claiborne to be a star?
“I thought they were going to come at me every snap,” said Claiborne, the Dallas Cowboys No. 1 pick who made his NFL debut in the team’s preseason loss at San Diego on Saturday. “I’ve just been itching to get out on the field.”
The LSU cornerback taken with the sixth overall pick says he knows that Dallas — which ranked him as the top defensive player in this year’s draft — wants him to “come in and play right away” and “be a shutdown corner.”
Claiborne will play the rest of this preseason in preparation for being a starter in the season-opener at the Giants. There will be times when he demonstrates that he is indeed a “shutdown corner,” as he did at times against the Chargers, when San Diego rarely bothered throwing to his side. (Meanwhile, veteran newcomer Brandon Carr manned the other cornerback spot and grabbed two first-half interceptions for a Cowboys defense trying to undergo a playmaker makeover.)
But what is the historical learning curve for a cornerback to move from talent to starter to reputed success to true star?
Let’s use standard NFL honors as the measuring stick: A first Pro Bowl appearance… and then, for the rare player who is an all-time great, the NFL’s official All-Decade Teams.
A dozen cornerbacks have earned All-Decade honors for the decades of the ’80’s, ’90’s and 2000’s. As recognizable as these names are — and as brilliant as their talent was — you might be surprised to learn how long it took them to achieve Pro Bowl-level “stardom”:
All-NFL Team of The 80’s CBs
MIKE HAYNES — A first-round pick in 1976, the Raiders corner intercepted eight passes to earn All-Rookie honors. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls including a berth as a rookie. So it took him his one NFL season to get recognition.
MEL BLOUNT — He was an All-Pro selection four times. But his first Pro Bowl didn’t come until ’75… and he was drafted in ’70. Blount sat the bench for almost three years before emerging as a Steelers standout… so it took him six seasons to make the Pro Bowl.
FRANK MINNIFIELD — He was on the All-Rookie team and later won first-team All-Pro honors from 1987-89. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection for the Browns, but his first Pro Bowl didn’t come until ’86… meaning he had to wait three years.
LESTER HAYES — He entered the league in 1977 and was a first- or second-team All-Pro choice five times. But the Pro Bowl? He didn’t make it until 1980… a four-year wait.
All-NFL Team of The 90’s CBs
DEION SANDERS — He entered the league in ’89 and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1994 and is considered the best “cover corner” of all-time. But the Falcons draftee (and then NFL champ with the 49ers and Cowboys) didn’t make his first Pro Bowl until ’91 — a three-year wait.
ROD WOODSON — Another all-timer, named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1993. Woodson earned 11 career Pro Bowl nods after coming into the league in ’87… and then waiting until ’89 for his first Pro Bowl. A three-year wait.
DARRELL GREEN — The Redskins great entered the NFL in ’83 and made the Pro Bowl in ’84 after year two.
AENEAS WILLIAMS — The Cardinals standout — according to Troy Aikman second only to Deion as the best CB he ever opposed — came into the league in ’91 and earned first-team All-Pro honors four times. But not until ’94 was he a Pro Bowler — a wait of four years.
All-NFL Team of The 90’s CBs
CHAMP BAILEY — He was drafted by the Redskins in 1999 and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2000. A two-year wait.
1999…. 2000…. 2 years
CHARLES WOODSON — He was drafted by the Raiders in 1998, was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year for Green Bay a decade later, but was recognized immediately as a stud, making the Pro Bowl after his first season.
RONDE BARBER — A five-time Pro Bowler for the Bucs, he was drafted in ’97 and finally made the Pro Bowl in 2001 — a five-year wait.
TY LAW — Drafted in 1996, he qualified for the Pro Bowl in ’98. A three-year wait.
Add it up. Those 12 guys — the greatest cornerbacks of three eras — needed on average three full seasons before becoming Pro Bowlers. Haynes and Woodson made it after one year, so it’s possible to earn recognition right away. But six years for Blount? Four years for Hayes? Three years for Deion?
Mo Claiborne will become a starter immediately. He may become a “shutdown corner” soon after. But one of the goals for him is true stardom, and history says the Cowboys will need a little patience there.