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NFL Draft: No mistake, Clayborn still great

[ 1 ] April 22, 2011 |

Ask Gil Brandt about Adrian Clayborn and the longtime NFL player personnel executive brings up one play.

It’s not the Iowa defensive end’s blocked punt against Penn State. It’s not a tackle in the Ohio State backfield. It’s not a sack in the Orange Bowl.

“I just happened to be looking at the (2010) Northwestern game,” said Brandt, who spent three decades as the vice president of player personnel with the Dallas Cowboys. “I thought at the end of the game, when the game was on the line, he came from the right side, the quarterback’s backside, and he was really hustling to make a play. I think that’s a good mark when you see a guy late in the year, who’s gotten a lot of accolades — rightfully so — and he’s working hard to be a better player.

“You classify that as a hustle play or a competitive play. That play meant a lot to me as far as evaluating.”

Clayborn didn’t get to Northwestern’s Dan Persa on that play. He was a split-second late. Persa threw a touchdown pass that lifted the Wildcats to a 21-17 victory last November.

But that’s not the point to Brandt. What he saw was Clayborn — whose hustle as a senior was questioned in recent months in the NFL draft blogosphere — playing with max effort on the 82nd snap of the season’s 10th game.

“That’s the type of stuff I like to hear,” Clayborn said. “Everybody knows about the Orange Bowl and Penn State. The guys who look at little stuff like that and know the game of football and how much it takes to succeed at it, stuff like that is great (to hear). Everybody knows about the blocked punt. I’m done hearing about that for the rest of my life. It wouldn’t hurt me not hearing about it.”

The blocked punt probably put Clayborn on the map in 2009. It was an outcome-changing play in the fourth quarter of a prime time game on national television. The performance later that season at Ohio State (12 tackles, three for losses, one sack) and the MVP outing in the Orange Bowl (nine tackles, two sacks) might have helped push Clayborn into the first round had he opted to enter the draft as a junior.

His return to the Hawkeyes came with expectations that Clayborn would reach another stratosphere as a senior. That he would match or top the monster numbers he posted as a junior when he registered 20 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. That he would be one of the first players selected in the 2011 draft.

Those prospects were fueled throughout the summer when Clayborn appeared on the first-team All-America squad of virtually every preseason publication. In August, he was ranked fifth on ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper’s Big Board.

Clayborn’s senior season has been a topic of debate leading up to next week’s draft. He’ll likely be a first-round pick, but he probably won’t go off the board as early as once projected.

Kiper’s latest Big Board has Clayborn ranked 19th. Several reputable draft analysts project him as a good fit for Tampa Bay with the No. 20 pick, New Orleans at 24 or Atlanta at 27.

Clayborn will tell you he made the right decision by returning to the Hawkeyes. He said NFL coaches and scouts agree. He said he became a more complete player as a senior.

“I think I definitely helped myself,” Clayborn said. “In the draft experts’ eyes, I probably haven’t. But every coach I’ve talked to, they said I had a hell of a senior year. The productivity is still there, it’s just that the numbers weren’t what people liked, I guess.”

Clayborn’s statistical production tailed off in 2010 when he collected seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks as a senior.

“Statistically, he didn’t play as well this year as he did (as a junior),” Brandt said. “I still think he’s a really good football player. I think he will be a very, very good pass rusher and also play the run really well.”

Was the numerical dropoff a reflection of more attention devoted to Clayborn by offensive game planners? Was it a byproduct of playing against offenses that utilized more short, quick passes to neutralize Iowa’s pass rush? Was there something missing in Clayborn’s game?

The numbers don’t tell the whole story. They don’t reflect Clayborn beating a fourth-quarter block in the Insight Bowl, chasing down Blaine Gabbert and pressuring him into the pass that Micah Hyde intercepted and returned for the go-ahead touchdown in Iowa’s 27-24 win.

“The biggest thing is you see flashes of the guy you saw (in 2009), but I don’t know if he was quite as hungry, and I don’t know if a bunch of those guys were as hungry as they were last year,” said Wes Bunting, the director of college scouting for the National Football Post.

This is what happens in the months leading up to the draft. The coaches, scouts and analysts comb through seasons of game tapes, examine combine measurements and interview answers while trying to figure out who goes where on a draft board. Even the top prospects spend months under a microscope.

“I knew every little aspect of my career and personal life was going to be dissected,” Clayborn said. “I pretty much knew all that was coming. It’s been a good four months. I’m just ready to find out where I’m going so I can start playing.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andy Hamilton: University of Iowa graduate Andy Hamilton is originally from Williams, Iowa, and started at the Des Moines Register in August after 12 years at the Press-Citizen. He covers wrestling for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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