Scouting Adrian Clayborn - 2009 Week 2 against Iowa State - What Pass Rush?

In the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Adrian Clayborn. The Iowa Defensive End is supposed to be a great run stopper, but there are questions about his pass-rush ability. While he had a great 2009 season, his production dropped off in 2010 and there are some questions about why that happened. To answer those questions, I've decided to go watch a whole lot of tape on the newest Buccaneer. I managed to track down two 2009 games, and almost all of the 2010 Iowa games. 

First up: the second game of the 2009 season against Iowa State. This was an interesting matchup for Clayborn, who went against Kelechi Osemele. He earned AP second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2009. While the Iowa State left tackle hasn't come out for the NFL yet, he looks to be one of the top offensive guard guard prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft, and a second- or third-rounder as a tackle. Adrian Clayborn isn't going against a lightweight in this game. 

I wanted to know more about Clayborn's skills as a pass rusher, and it would seem like a matchup against a good tackle would be a good indication, but watching this game was largely a waste of time from a pass-rushing standpoint. Why? Well, because Clayborn wasn't really asked to pass-rush. Instead, he seemed to play contain, reading the backfield before deciding whether to rush the pass rusher or stay at home. This may have been a function of the offense they were facing, which was based on run fakes and had a mobile QB in Austen Arnaud.

In short: there wasn't a lot of pass-rushing being done. I saw Clayborn threaten the edge 5 times in the game, and he beat the OT twice but wasn't able to get to the QB before the ball was thrown on either occasion. He was better on inside moves, regularly beating the offensive tackle, and got a QB hit out of stunt with the defensive tackle. Overall, though, this wasn't an impressive game for Clayborn in terms of pass-rush ability, although he wasn't asked to pass rush much. It looked like they were playing a 2-gap scheme,which will be very different from what the Bucs will ask him to do. 

That doesn't mean it's all negative, far from it. One reason why Clayborn wasn't pass rushing often was that Ochele often short set or run-blocked on passing plays, and that combined with run fakes forced him to stay home and read the backfield. Clayborn was asked to hold the point, then shed and tackle if the play came to him, and that's exactly what he did. He was consistently able to hold his ground, he used his hands well to shed blocks and made several impact plays that way. It was also clear that Iowa State wasn't fond of testing his side of the line, often running away from him. When he did manage to get in on a play, he tackled like a truck, at one point lifting the running back off the ground and slamming him back down. Clayborn's hustle also showed on tape, ashe was always running to the ball. He also showed some excellent instincts, quickly recognizing bootlegs, screens and other misdirection plays. 

All in all I came away impressed with Clayborn's abilities as a run-stuffer and his ability to control the line of scrimmage, but the questions about his pass rush ability remain. On to the next game, then. 

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