Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the 20th best player in defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 55.5/100
Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 56/100
Teams he is starter: 7 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 4 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +2
Positional Bonus: +4
The Falcons’ biggest need
for the past several years entering this past offseason was to get better at pressuring the quarterback. Expectations were high that the Falcons would make a big splash in the free agency market to try and find someone that could.
Thus it was a little disappointing when Falcon fans saw players like Jerry Hughes, Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo go by the way side early in free agency, signing lucrative with teams not named the Falcons. Eventually the team “settled” on Clayborn, a competent but non-flashy starter the past several years in the league.
Clayborn entered the league in 2011 with considerably more pub as the first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After a promising 7.5-sack total during his rookie year, Clayborn was poised for greater things until an ACL injury forced him to miss most of his sophomore season. Clayborn came back in 2013 but to lesser fanfare, putting together a solid, but unspectacular five-sack season.
The Bucs’ pass rush had been a notable weakness over the course of Clayborn’s tenure in Tampa, thus it was little surprise when the team sprang for free agent Michael Johnson last year. That expenditure became somewhat a testament to the limitations of Clayborn and others currently there. Unfortunately, Clayborn never had the opportunity to disprove his naysayers as another injury, this time one to his right arm suffered in the season-opener, sidelined him for the remainder of 2014.
Clayborn comes to Atlanta with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, hoping to prove that not only can he remain healthy, but can begin to live up to the billing he once had as a first-round pick and prominent pass-rusher.
With a one-year contract, this season will be an important one for the 27-year old pass-rusher. Unless he can prove himself to be a productive pass-rusher and remain healthy, he won’t get many more opportunities to be a starter in the future.
And yet Clayborn will be seeking to prove all this and he may not even be a starter in Atlanta. He’ll likely be utilized mainly as a sub-package player in Dan Quinn’s defense this year. That draws parallels to a former teammate of Clayborn in Michael Bennett, who also was technically a reserve for the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 despite leading the team with 8.5 sacks.
Like Bennett, Clayborn will likely be asked to play both inside and outside along the defensive line. While Clayborn possesses good first-step quickness, he doesn’t have the sort of devastating first step that has made him feared as an edge-rusher. But that first step should be far more effective playing on the interior against slow-footed guards.
The key for Clayborn’s success as an interior rusher is whether or not his hand use has gotten stronger. Born with Erb’s Palsy, Clayborn has been somewhat limited over the years due to not having full range of motion and strength in his right arm. Being a one-handed defender doesn’t bode well for trying to fight his way through the phone booth that is often the battle in the trenches along the interior.
Obviously Clayborn’s condition hasn’t been too limiting on him given his success when healthy, but it may be a different animal now that he’ll be facing guards. It’s just something else that Clayborn will have to prove.
If he can, then there’s a chance that he’ll be rewarded with a long-term contract by the Falcons or another team in 2016. If he cannot, then he’ll have just been a competent seat-warmer for young players like Grady Jarrett, Ra’Shede Hageman and Malliciah Goodman.
Either way, the Falcons should benefit because they’ll get a highly motivated veteran.