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Top 44 Athletes of the Decade: #40 Morris Claiborne

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LSU v Tennessee

DBU. If you’re a defensive back you come to LSU to be great. That goes for the ones who arrive with a reputation and the ones without. If you join the Tigers already in the spotlight, the program will help you stand taller. If the spotlight isn’t on you, LSU will set you up so the bright lights shine in your direction.

Morris Claiborne was not one of the highest sought after players in the nation out of high school. In a 2009 class headlined by Ruben Randle, Russell Shepard, and Craig Loston, Claiborne was a three-star prospect rated as the 58th athlete in the nation and 21st prospect in Louisiana according to Rivals. Safe to say the rankings may have missed on this one.

In his three years with the Tigers, Claiborne became one of the most decorated defensive backs and maybe a bit of a forgotten one having shared the spotlight with Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu, and Eric Reid.

Claiborne truly lived up to the definition of an athlete with the Tigers. He was right behind Patrick Peterson on the depth chart by the end of his freshman season and was a consistent starter as a sophomore, showing the smoothness to effortlessly cover receivers on defense with the ability to snatch a pass back for the Tigers. While he was primarily evaluated for his ability in coverage, when the ball was in his hands Claiborne glided past defenders, flashing the skills that some believed would have made him an exceptional receiver.

His best season with the Tigers came in the historic 2011 campaign. Claiborne finished the year as the Thorpe Award winner, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, All-American and All-SEC recognition, and an SEC Championship. He totaled 32 tackles, six pass breakups, six picks, and two touchdowns, one on a kick return and one on an interception. He led the nation in interception yards and fifth in the SEC in average kick return.

He would leave LSU following the 2011 season with 54 career tackles, 11 interceptions, and 23 pass breakups. The Cowboys would select him with the 6th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Many of the defensive backs that have passed through LSU have had some kind of alter ego that largely can be linked to their style of play with the Tigers. It certainly helps solidify a legacy. Mo Claiborne might not have had a flashy persona, but he did not need one in becoming one of the best defensive backs in program history.