I’ve already assessed the play of two prospects who could potentially play defensive end for Dallas: Cameron Jordan from Cal and Cameron Heyward from Ohio State. I really love Jordan’s game and I think he’ll rise before the draft. Heyward is a solid player, but I don’t think he’s worth a first-round selection.
The Cowboys’ draft depends heavily on the future of Jay Ratliff, who may move to defensive end in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme. I think that move would help Ratliff, who received only a “B-” overall grade in my 2010 Defensive Line Grades.
At 6’4”, 285 pounds, Clayborn was a monster defensive end in college. In the Cowboys’ scheme, however, he’d be on the small side. As I’ve stated in the past, I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. While the job description of a 3-4 defensive end certainly entails stopping the run, Clayborn has plenty of size and athleticism to do that. It is his pass-rushing ability that could really aid the Dallas pass rush.
Clayborn is a player who has stood out to me while I’ve been studying film on other players. He has a tremendous speed rush (for his size) and an overall high motor. His strength is incredible and he uses it to get to the quarterback and ward off defenders in the run game. When he isn’t in position to make a play on the ball-carrier, he has the speed to chase him down from behind.
For evidence of Clayborn’s speed and athleticism, check out the 1:11 and 1:36 marks below (when he beats future first-rounder Gabe Carimi).
In the video below, Clayborn shows an uncanny ability to fight off blocks and create havoc for an offense. He does just this at the 1:22 mark.
Clayborn is also excellent at stringing out the ball-carrier (2:15 mark). His ability to fight off blocks and secure the edge might allow the Cowboys’ outside linebackers to focus on rushing the passer immediately (which could be a big help to Anthony Spencer).
To me, Clayborn’s only negatives are his hand placement (he sometimes allows blockers to get their hands in on him and neutralize his athleticism, but this isn’t a consistent weakness) and the lack of a dominant second move. He has relied so much on his strength in college that he hasn’t needed to use counter moves, but that won’t be the case in the NFL. Clayborn’s future success will depend on his ability to adjust to facing blockers who are even stronger than him.
Clayborn is all over people’s boards–from the top of the first to the bottom of it. The strength of the 2011 defensive tackle/end class hurts him, but I still think he’s a top 10 talent. I haven’t put together a big board yet, but I am confident that he’ll be in the single digits. Despite other pressing needs, I would have no problem with the Cowboys selecting Clayborn with their No. 9 overall pick—he’s that good. If they could trade down a few spots and still secure Clayborn, they’d be in prime position to trade back into the first round and acquire a top offensive tackle as well.
Other Potential Cowboys Draft Picks in 2011