The last time I left you guys with this series, I reviewed the second game of the Iowa's 2009 season, and came away a little confused on Adrian Clayborn. This was supposed to be his big year in which he was constantly in the backfield making plays, but I didn't see any of that against Iowa State. What I saw instead was a defensive lineman who was asked to two-gap, who wasn't allowed to attack. Clayborn was playing in a system vastly different from the Bucs' system, so this makes evaluation even harder.
But in the game I'm reviewing today, I did see a lot of skills that translated to the NFL. But before I get into that, I want to show you the importance of this game. The Iowa Hawkeyes faced off against the Ohio State in what was essentially the Big Ten Championship game, and the winner of this game would move on to play in the Rose Bowl. This was the most important game of the Iowa Hawkeyes' season, but the opposition wasn't great for Adrian Clayborn himself. He was facing Jim Cordle, a center who was moved to guard, and then to left tackle. He wasn't drafted in the NFL, though he spent last season on the Giants' practice squad - as a center. The quarterback he was protecting is very good (in college), though: Terrelle Pryor. A real dual threat quarterback who Clayborn has to contain, which puts a strain on his freedom as a pass-rusher.
As I said, Clayborn showed a number of attributes a defensive end needs in the NFL in this game. He was still two-gapping, which means he would take on the offensive lineman, look in the backfield and then shed and try to make a tackle or force the play to his teammates, if the play came his way. Clayborn was able to do this consistently: he'd take on Jim Cordle, then throw him to one side to make the tackle. Clayborn's upper-body strength really stood out to me, and I saw no evidence whatsoever of diminished power in his right arm. Unfortunately, upper-body strength doesn't really translate to the NFL immediately, as NFL tackles are much more powerful than college linemen, for obvious reasons.
But when Clayborn was pass-rushing, he also showed the important ability to turn the corner. He'd beat Jim Cordle to the outside, then stay low, turn the corner and get after Pryor. He wasn't able to do this consistently, but just the ability to 'skim that corner' is very valuable. This showed in his production as a pass rusher: he had one sack, and eight pressures by my count. That's very, very good. And that's not even counting his production in the run game, where he basically shut down his side of the field.
Despite all that production, Clayborn didn't show me the speed to actually get to the corner as pass-rusher. Yes, he beat Cordle to the outside a couple of times, but Cordle isn't an NFL-caliber offensive tackle and he didn't really move that well. I doubt Clayborn will be able to be a speed rusher in the NFL. Instead, he'll have to get by on bull rushes, inside moves and most importantly: using his hands. Thankfully, he consistently used his hands to disengage and get past linemen, and that should really help him in the NFL.
Here's the most impressive thing, though: he played every single down of this game. Defensive linemen are often rotated heavily, as defensive line play takes a heavy toll on 280 lb. bodies. In the previous game, Clayborn missed a number of snaps at the end of the game when it was already decided. This game was important, though, and it remained close throughout. Clayborn played the entire game, and he was able to make an impact both on the first and last downs of the game. That's the mark of a player who will do whatever he can to make sure his team wins.