A strong rookie campaign can instill great feelings of optimism amongst players, coaches, and fantasy owners alike. With that optimism, though, are the lingering concerns for the dreaded “sophomore slump.” After an impressive rookie season in 2011, Adrian Clayborn has already caught the attention of many fantasy owners, and rightfully so. I’m not simply saying that Clayborn is a good sleeper pick for 2012, because I believe many people already view him as that. What I am saying, however, is that several variables have fallen into place which has altered Clayborn’s “sleeper” status – factors beyond the matter of Clayborn having a great rookie season.
Following a stellar rookie season that included 23 solo tackles, eight sacks, 50 total QB pressures and three forced fumbles, Clayborn has certainly made a name for himself as an up-and-coming 4-3 defensive end. Despite struggling against the run at times (grading out at -5.5) he made up for that with a +14.5 pass rush rating – the same as Jason Pierre-Paul. While this certainly complements his current 2012 “sleeper” status, it is by no means the lone factor. First and foremost, He played the majority of his rookie season without the Buccaneers’ best defensive linemen, Gerald McCoy, playing next to him. McCoy played what essentially equaled just four full games for the Bucs in 2012, yet still managed eight solo tackles, one sack, and ten total QB pressures. Additionally, he graded out positively with PFF as both a run defender and pass rusher (+5.1 and +2.6 respectfully). With McCoy returning at full strength in 2012, expect his presence to provide a boost in Clayborn’s performance, and therefore fantasy value as well.
Moreover, Clayborn compiled five of his eight sacks and half of his total quarterback pressures in the last 7 games of the season. Before seeing a slightly decreased role in the last two games of the season, Clayborn went on a streak of 5 games in which he recorded a sack, and throughout that stretch also managed a combined 21 total pressures. With a late surge to end his rookie season, expect Clayborn to pick up where he left off. This table illustrates what his season totals would have looked like if he had produced at that level all season:
|Week 11-15||Projected Totals|
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the major offensive overhaul that Tampa Bay endured this off-season could have a drastic influence on Clayborn’s 2012 performance. With such poor offensive production last season, The Buccaneers often found themselves playing from behind. As a result, teams would run the ball more often against them, thus limiting Clayborn’s opportunities to get after opposing quarterbacks – his greatest asset. With the arrival of star wide receiver Vincent Jackson, all-pro guard Carl Nicks, and rookie running back Doug Martin, expect the Bucs’ offense to be much more formidable in 2012. If the Bucs can put more points on the board and keep games close, opposing teams will have to pass more often, playing right into Clayborn’s strength as a pass rusher. As a result, drafting Clayborn a bit higher than his rank (currently going on average as the 215th pick in our mocks) is he low-risk, high reward move, especially if no one on the board really catches your eye.
In turn, you may be rewarded by drafting Clayborn higher than he is actually ranked, especially if you play in a dynasty league, where we have him ranked as the #21 DE in our IDP dynasty rankings. Currently, is IDP ADP rank has him as the 22nd DE being taken.
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