Featured Falcon Friday: Defensive End Adrian Clayborn
Thanks to three straight games with a sack, Adrian Clayborn earns this week’s distinction as the Featured Falcon Friday.
Adrian Clayborn even admits he wouldn’t have paid himself when he became a free agent following the 2014 season. Clayborn, a former first round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, missed a total of 28 games in his four year stint with the team.
He also probably would confess that last year didn’t go as well as he had hoped in his first season with the Falcons. However, Atlanta’s front office showed their loyalty to Clayborn when they signed him to a two-year extension this past offseason.
By giving him that extra year, the organization affirmed their belief in AC as the right fit for head coach Dan Quinn’s defense.
It’s no secret Quinn has tried to model the Falcons defense in the image of the one he coordinated in Seattle. You can see it in the personnel Atlanta has brought in over the past two seasons.
Defensive end Vic Beasley was the new regime’s first draft pick and he has evolved into the type of player Seattle envisioned for Bruce Irvin.
The Falcons first round pick this year, Keanu Neal, has lived up to the hype as the Kam Chancellor enforcer for Quinn’s defense. It’s only a matter of time before Seattle starts labeling Chancellor as the Keanu Neal of the Seahawks defense.
Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell were also brought in from the 2016 draft with the vision to play the roles of Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, respectively.
That brings us to the Michael Bennett position. Seattle brought in Michael Bennett from the Buccaneers in 2013 on a one year, $4.8 million deal. Atlanta brought in Adrian Clayborn from the Buccaneers in 2015 on a one year contract worth a maximum value of $4.5 million.
Michael Bennett’s draft profile (from nfldraftscout.com): 6-foot-3, 274 lbs., 4.86 second 40 time. Adrian Clayborn’s draft profile (from nfldraftscout.com): 6-foot-3, 281 lbs., 4.78 second 40 time.
Michael Bennett’s career sack total before coming to Seattle: 15 sacks. Adrian Clayborn’s career sack total before coming to Atlanta: 13 sacks.
Sounds like too much of a coincidence not to have some substance behind it, right?
Not only have their paths to Dan Quinn’s program been similar, but the way in which DQ has featured them both in his scheme has been nearly identical as well.
Quinn values his defensive line rotations for a variety of reasons. He believes they keep his players fresh for the crunch-time snaps of the fourth quarter. He also does it to put his players in the best position to have success against the opposition.
The latter has contributed to Quinn’s philosophy of moving guys like Bennett and Clayborn inside on obvious passing downs to rush the quarterback. The belief is that guards and centers are not accustomed to dealing with the size and quickness of a player like Clayborn.
Case and point came in week eight against the Green Bay Packers.
— Knox Bardeen (@knoxbardeen) October 31, 2016
Clayborn showed off his swim moves on both plays to beat LG Lane Taylor and C JC Tretter. And before you criticize Green Bay’s offensive line, they entered the game as the league leader in pass blocking efficiency, according to PFF.
QB pressures (sacks, hits, hurries) surrendered by O-line this season:
Least: Packers (36)
Most: Colts (118) pic.twitter.com/X2wDm8q6FG
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 25, 2016
But it’s not every game that the Packers face an interior pass rusher with those kind of moves. With Adrian Clayborn at his disposal, Dan Quinn has the versatile pass rusher he had in Seattle with Michael Bennett.
Versatile is not a word Clayborn would have expected to be thrown his way given how his life began. AC was diagnosed with a nerve disorder known as Erb’s Palsy after being born feet first as a baby.
The excess pressure on his neck area during childbirth caused him to lose mobility in his right arm. Growing up, Clayborn underwent physical therapy to help deal with the limitations, but the condition stays with him to this day.
That is why Clayborn lines up exclusively on the left side of the defensive line. Or he did, until last week when he was spotted across from Bucs RT Demar Dotson.
Adrian Clayborn's fourth sack in five games. Beautiful inside swim move leaves Demar Dotson in the dust. pic.twitter.com/4akJJRToZ0
— Allen Strk (@Allen_Strk) November 9, 2016
You can tell he’s favoring the affected arm while rushing from the right, but that didn’t stop him from unleashing his devastating swim move with great success. After the sack, Clayborn got up and stared down his former sideline in a “oh, you didn’t know I could rush from the right side?” kind of way.
In the process, AC is proving his old outfit wrong and his new suitors right for showing their commitment to him. Finally healthy and growing increasingly comfortable in his new role, Adrian Clayborn is having a career year this season.
Per Gil Brandt, Clayborn ranks near the top of the league with his 28 QB pressures.
Most def front 7 pressures:
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) November 10, 2016
In addition, AC is on pace to finish the season with a career high in sacks. He has as much to do with the Falcons surpassing their sack total from a year ago as any other player on the team.
We often talk about the Alex Mack signing as one of the best of the entire offseason and rightfully so. But it’s time we declare the Clayborn signing a close second, especially for the value.
Adrian Clayborn has filled out the Michael Bennett role on this “Seattle South” defense. Only a few more spots need to be filled before the unit reflects the Super Bowl winning model.
Clayborn figures to be around when that moment comes. And who knows, it may be sooner than we expect.
Be sure to vote Monday on Twitter @BloggingDirty to determine next week’s Featured Falcon Friday.