By Morgan Prewitt
As the 2015 football season approaches, the DIG Sports staff decided to take a look back and rank the top ten LSU players of the Les Miles era (2005-present). The Tigers have had 64 players drafted into the NFL with Miles at the helm, and the program led all schools with 38 former players on active NFL rosters during the opening weekend of the 2014 season.
No. 9 Morris Claiborne
Position: Defensive Back
Career Highlight: 99-yard kickoff return against West Virginia in 2011.
Eye-Popping Stat: Led the nation in interception return yardage with 173 in 2011.
NFL draft: 2012 / Round: 1 / Pick: 6 / Dallas Cowboys
When Morris “Mo” Claiborne walked into the LSU Football Operations Complex in August 2009 for fall camp, the former Louisiana 100-meter-dash state champion was on track to make his debut for the Tigers as a receiver.
But a week into fall drills, he flipped positions from receiver to defensive back.
Two years later, Claiborne crossed a stage in Orlando, Florida to receive the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s top defensive back, helping LSU secure the moniker “DBU” by becoming the second-straight Tiger to win the award after Patrick Peterson in 2010.
Although he did not capture a starting role until his sophomore campaign, Claiborne’s excellent ball skills, fluid movement in coverage and top-notch speed earned him consensus First Team All-America marks and the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honors by the coaches in 2011.
As a defensive and special teams player, Claiborne’s ability to shake players in the open field translated into long interception and kickoff returns throughout his illustrious career.
Claiborne led the nation in interception return yards in 2011 with 173, including a 89-yard return against Tennessee the longest non-scoring return in LSU history. In his three seasons at LSU, the Shreveport native finished behind only Craig Steltz (2004-07) with 274 career interception return yards on 11 interception returns.
In LSU’s Southeastern Conference opener against Mississippi State in 2011, Claiborne recorded two interceptions and broke up a pass in the Tigers’ 19-6 win against the Bulldogs and was named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts the following week.
Along with leading the Tigers with six interceptions in 2011 and becoming one of the top shutdown corners in the game, the Claiborne’s knack for coming up with timely kickoff returns played a key role in the Tigers’ run to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game.
After jumping out to a 27-7 halftime lead against No. 16 West Virginia on Sept. 24, 2011, the Tigers were struggling to reestablish any rhythm in the second half following a two-touchdown comeback by the Mountaineers that cut LSU’s lead to only seven.
With a minute left in the third, Claiborne surprised the Mountaineers with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the third longest return in LSU history, and helped seal the road victory for the Tigers.
Though Claiborne’s quiet style clashed with the brash, cocky persona of fellow 2011 All-American defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and the physical presence of Peterson, Claiborne’s ability to shut down his own receiver allowed these high flying corners to excel on the opposite side within the Tigers’ secondary.
Top 10 LSU Players in the Les Miles Era: