This week's Player of the Week is provided by NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Chad Reuter. Any comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa 6-3 / 286/ 4.79
Clayborn's break-out 2009 season (20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles) led most scouts to believe they would see more of the same in his senior year. So far in Iowa's unbeaten 2010 season, however, he has only managed five tackles behind the line and 1.5 sacks. He has received extra attention from opposing running game coordinators, to be sure, but Arizona left tackle Adam Grant blocked Clayborn very well one-on-one earlier in the Hawkeyes' only loss of the year -- so some scouts are wondering why he isn't making more of an impact.
In Iowa's big road 38-28 win over Michigan Saturday, Clayborn was credited with three tackles with an assisted sack. But he had a bigger impact on the game than those statistics may indicate.
When the Wolverines' Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Denard Robinson, was in the game, Clayborn's primary responsibility was to force the explosive runner inside so his linebackers could stop him. Trying to rush upfield would only increase the size of the running lane. On multiple occasions, Robinson started to his left but Clayborn's presence forced him to head to the other side of the field. In fact, on the play which Robinson hurt his shoulder in the third quarter, #94's ability to stay outside of the quarterback forced him into traffic instead of getting the sideline, in a way assisting in taking the dangerous QB out of the game.
Also, Clayborn blocked a field goal in the second quarter that maintained a 14-7 lead for the Hawkeyes. He literally ran over his blocker on the field goal team and got his hand up to deflect the kick on his way to the ground. He also knocked tight ends off their routes as they came off the line of scrimmage, gave himself up on tackle-end twists so Karl Klug could get pressures, and even dropped into coverage late in the game (though Michigan wound up getting a deep ball on the play).
When Robinson looked sure to pass early in the game, Clayborn displayed the strong hands scouts have been gushing about to leave freshman tackle Taylor Lewan in the dust and attack the passer. On his first tackle of the game, ripped down Lewan's jersey yet again, disengaged and stopped power back Stephen Hopkins in his tracks. Throughout the game, Clayborn ripped his hands across Lewan's body, getting around the tall tackle to chase plays from behind (which he needed to do because Michigan ran to the strong side often).
His assisted sack late in the fourth quarter flashed the pass rush ability scouts hope to see more of. Michigan back-up quarterback Tate Forcier went back to pass in a desperation situation, Clayborn beat his man off the edge, missed Forcier initially, then circled around when the passer was still looking downfield and evidentally got him down (with Klug getting a marginal half-sack in clean-up duty).
Scouts will also notice some negatives to Clayborn's performance when they review the tape. He took himself out of the game multiple times because chasing down Robinson and the tempo of Michigan's offense. To be fair, many defensive linemen are regularly rotated out by coaches throughout the game, but Iowa does not do that as often; but combined with his spotty pass rush at the end of the game, where he resorted to jumping up to try to knock down passes instead of pressuring Forcier, his conditioning will be questioned by scouts.
At times Clayborn could not move the young left tackles in front of him (junior Mark Huyge took over for Lewan during the middle of the contest), occasionally getting moved out of the hole, looking as though his relative lack of length may affect his ability to rush the passer at the next level. And although he flashed that strong first step off the edge, most of his pressure came on hustle and secondary rushes.
There's no doubt that Clayborn uses his hands as well as any player at any position in the draft, and plays with good effort and leverage. He looked disciplined against the run and does a lot of little things very well. But his relative lack of production so far in 2010, along with some of the issues on display Saturday, may be the difference between his being picked in the top ten and falling into the teens or early 20's.