Conventional wisdom is that Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff will select the best available defensive end with Atlanta’s first round pick. And on our board, the best available defensive end was the former Iowa Hawkeyes DE Adrian Clayborn.
To be honest, your Atlanta Falcons Examiner did not expect Clayborn to fall down to the Falcons, with a lot of the other mock drafts having the former Iowa standout going a few picks ahead of Atlanta’s pick, possibly 24th to the New Orleans Saints.
But when the Saints Examiner Danny Cox selected Temple DT Muhammad Wilkinson with that pick in our mock format, Clayborn fell to the Falcons three picks later, and we selected him just like ESPN analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. and a bevy of others did.
The consensus All-American appeared in 13 games with the Hawkeyes in his senior season, recording 19 tackles and 33 assists, including seven tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
The 23-year-old St. Louis-native had his best season for the Hawkeyes in his junior campaign, where he recorded 36 tackles and 34 assists, 20 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks, including a nine tackle performance against Georgia Tech in the 2010 Orange Bowl. Clayborn also had two tackles for a loss and two QB sacks in that game en route to notching the contest’s MVP honors.
The 6-foot-4, 285-pound finished his career with 192 combined tackles (73 tackles and 119 assists), 37.5 tackles for loss, 19 sacks, 19 QB hurry ups, three blocked field goals and seven forced fumbles – not bad numbers for a guy who suffers from Erb’s Palsy, a medical condition that leads to nerve damage in the arm and neck.
That injury can in part be traced to childbirth, when a doctor’s mistake resulted in a break to Clayborn’s collar bone. As a result, his right arm is smaller than his left. Some experts believe that will relegate the former Hawkeye to the right side of the defensive line in the NFL as he may be overpowered by bigger guards who will be all-too-eager to pick on Clayborn’s not-as-strong left arm.
Nevertheless, SI.com’s Peter King writes that just as Clayborn worked hard to overcome Erb’s Palsy as a kid, the former Hawkeye has put in time at the gym to overcome a perceived lack of strength in his upper left torso.
“To compensate, Clayborn has developed very strong hands and forearms so he can disengage from blocks quickly. Even though he doesn’t have the kind of explosive first step that some pass rushers do, he does have the ability to make it around the edge quickly.
“Scouts see an effort player who uses his leverage and skills learned at Iowa to overcome whatever weakness he has in his right arm and shoulder.”
Nevertheless, it is this injury that has Clayborn teetering on the brink of falling out of the first round. The former Hawkeye is projected to go anywhere from the mid-first round to early-second according to league scouts.
With Clayborn available at No. 27 for us in our hornface.com mock draft, we didn’t have to make a choice whether to select Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, Georgia DE Justin Houston or Pittsburgh Panthers DE Jabaal Sheard with this pick. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt, a player that King projects for the selection was drafted in our mock at No. 17 by the New England Patriots.
It’s widely believed that should Atlanta not go the defensive line route in the first round that Dimitroff will turn his attention to either the offensive line or possibly nab a tight end that will be groomed to replace Hall of Fame lock Tony Gonzalez.
A selection of an offensive lineman such as the Wisconsin Badgers’ OT Gabe Carimi may tip Dimitroff’s hand as to what he’s going to do with the three free agents on Atlanta’s offensive line if and when the lockout is settled.
Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl and Justin Blaylock will be free to offer their service elsewhere when the NFL’s labor strife finally runs its course and the owners and players come to their senses.
Notre Dame TE Kyle Rudolph, Baylor OG Danny Watkins and Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling are other possible selections for Atlanta’s No. 27 at the 2011 NFL Draft, which takes place Thursday through Saturday at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
For more about the 2011 NFL Draft, be sure to check out the hornface.com NFL Mock Draft.
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