Adrian Clayborn was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' highly-touted 2011 first-round pick. At the time, the Bucs desperately needed a defensive end, and they grabbed the best available pass-rusher in one of the deepest drafts for pass rushers we've ever seen. Unfortunately, Clayborn has been a disappointment so far, in part because of injuries. While he's certainly a fan-favorite because of his aggressive, violent style of play, he hasn't been overly effective, notching just seven sacks in 2011 and six in 2013, while missing most of the 2012 season with a knee injury. And now, with the addition of Michael Johnson at right defensive end, the Bucs are ready to move on from the former first-round pick.
Adrian Clayborn has been a right defensive end throughout his career, both in college and the pros, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Michael Johnson their starting right defensive end as soon as they signed him. Johnson played mostly right end in Cincinnati, and according to Pewter Report, his role as a right end was part of the pitch to Johnson to come to Tampa in free agency. And given Johnson's contract, there's basically no chance that Adrian Clayborn wins the job in training camp.
"I don't know how Adrian Clayborn stays on this roster, except for as a backup," Stephen White said on the latest What The Buc? show. "Because he's going to play the same position as Michael Johnson."
Of course, Clayborn might find a way to stick on the opposite side of the line, but White doubts that, too.
"Adrian Clayborn can't play left end. Why? Because that's where teams run the ball, that's where they put their tight end all the time. I'm not going to say he can't, but right now he's having trouble playing against tight ends head up. That was one of the reasons why they had him flip-flopping this past season. So as crazy as it sounds, I think Da'Quan Bowers has a much better chance of starting and being on this roster at the end of the August than Adrian Clayborn right now."
There's also been some speculation that he can't move because of his Erb's Palsy, which has made his right arm somewhat weaker -- but that's mostly speculation. It's certainly possible that that's why he struggles on the left side, but it's not like he was ever asked to put his hand in the dirt and play the strong side to definitively prove he can or cannot do it. Stephen White said that it was a technique issue, rather than a consequence of Erb's Palsy. So there's certainly a chance that he can learn to play the strong side and become a starter opposite Michael Johnson.
However, Clayborn will face heavy competition at the left defensive end spot. William Gholston proved last year that he can be a very good run defender, and an adequate pass rusher from that position. Da'Quan Bowers still showed some quality pass-rush from that position, despite being in the coaches' dog house all season long -- more so, in any case, than Adrian Clayborn did all year long. It would not be a surprise to see either or both of those players beat out Clayborn at left end, and see him relegated to backup right defensive end.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. It means the Bucs have a lot of depth at that position, reminiscent of what they had in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when they always seemed to have a surplus of depth at defensive end with players like Chidi Ahanotu, Simeon Rice, Regan Upshaw, Stephen White and Marcus Jones.
All is not lost for Clayborn, however. He'll get his share of snaps in 2014, especially so if he can be effective in training camp. There's reason to believe that his lackluster play in 2013 was due to a knee injury and the odd way in which he was used by Greg Schiano, who often had him standing up and running around blocks, rather than attacking offensive linemen.
While it's not impossible for Clayborn to get significant playing time and return to form, he's certainly facing an up-hill struggle. And more likely than not, his time as a significant player in Tampa is already over. Another loss for Mark Dominik, I guess.