The New England Patriots have completed their voluntary offseason workouts and mandatory mini-camp with training camp just about a month away. This is the last break for the players before it is non-stop until January or February. While the media has focused on Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the real headliners heading to July are the new faces in Foxboro such as defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
New England lost a number of valuable players on both sides of the ball in free agency after Super Bowl 52. On offense they lost wide receiver Danny Amendola–a mainstay since 2013–who left for a sizable salary increase in Miami; wide receiver Brandin Cooks was traded for a first round draft pick; left tackle Nate Solder–a starter at left tackle since Matt Light required after the 2011 season–signed a record-setting contract for tackles with the Giants; and running back Dion Lewis–a key contributor in the second half of 2017–signed with Tennessee for a hefty increase in pay.
On defense, the Patriots lost cornerbacks Malcolm Butler–signing also in Tennessee– and Johnson Bademosi–signing in Houston–leaving New England short a pair of contributors in the secondary. Defensive end James Harrison retired (again) and street free agent defensive tackle Ricky Jean-Francois also was released.
The New England Patriots needed to use free agency, trades and the NFL Draft to restock the roster after their offseason losses. One of those new faces is Adrian Clayborn.
Clayborn was a first-round draft pick (20th overall) out of Iowa in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After posting 7.5 sacks as a rookie, Clayborn tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in week three of 2012. The injury ended his season. He came back strong the following season as he played all 16 games in 2013 and piled up 5.5 sacks.
Clayborn had a disappointing final season in Tampa Bay as he tore his right bicep in 2014 in week one and missed the entire season. In free agency prior to the 2015 offseason, Clayborn jumped to Atlanta. His first season saw him in a rotational role but he stayed healthy and had three sacks in 2015.
The next season saw him playing a key role in the Atlanta Falcons’ run to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, a late season torn MCL and meniscus shut down the pass rusher for a spell in the second half of the season. Clayborn returned for the end of the season and the playoffs. However, a torn left bicep in the Divisional round cost him the rest of the playoff run.
Adrian Clayborn again had to come back from injury and again was strong in his return. Never a big sack player, he had 9.5 sacks including an amazing six in one game versus Dallas. He signed this offseason on a two-year, $12.5 million deal with $5.5 million guaranteed.
Latest Patriots News
- Patriots 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: RB Jaret Patterson
- NFL Free Agency: Are We Sure The Patriots Can Still Win Over Free Agents?
- Patriots Free Agency: Is James White As Good As Gone?
- Do All Signs Point To Jimmy Garoppolo Reunion?
- A Clare Perspective: The Valentine’s Day Edition – A Tight End Love Triangle
The Patriots struggled with a consistent pass rush in 2017.
Yes, the team had 42 sacks in the regular season and tied for seventh in the league with four other teams. However. that is a bit misleading. This team piled up sacks late in games with the outcome in hand and the opponent passing every down.
New England allowed the third-most passing yards in the league last year. In addition, they surrendered second-most yards per rushing attempt. The high-powered offense and excellent special teams units were able to mask the defense until Super Bowl 52. There, the Philadelphia Eagles exposed the New England defense to the tune of 164 yards rushing and 374 yards passing. They converted 10-of-16 third downs and both fourth downs.
The defense struggled against good teams and beat up bad offenses throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
Fit in New England:
Before the 2017 season the Patriots lost Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard in free agency and veteran Rob Ninkovich retired after sitting out the first week of training camp. New England had only rookie fourth-round draft pick Deatrich Wise Jr. to replace the trio after third-round draft pick Derek Rivers was injured in the preseason.
New England searched all season for an edge rusher or defensive end to play opposite Trey Flowers. They traded a pair of draft picks for Cassius Marsh and scooped Eric Lee off the Buffalo practice squad. By the end of the season, the job went to 39-year old veteran James Harrison after the Steelers let him go.
The Patriots were desperate for that steady veteran defensive end to set the edge and contribute with pressure (if not necessarily sacks). With Harrison retired, Marsh jettisoned last year, Rivers an unknown having never played a regular season snap, and Lee expected to compete for a backup role with Wise, the defense is desperate for a player of Adrian Clayborn’s pedigree.
Clayborn should step in and start immediately opposite Flowers in the Rob Ninkovich role on defense. He will first and foremost be responsible for stopping the run on early downs and containing quarterbacks in the pocket. Last year, the image of Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans running around and breaking containment before making a big play is likely burned in the mind of Bill Belichick.
Another image from 2017 is quarterback after quarterback sitting in the pocket and dissecting the secondary. Whether it was Alex Smith in week one, Cam Newton in week three, Josh McCown in week six, Jay Cutler in week 14 or Nick Foles in the Super Bowl, it was too often for Patriots fans to watch. The pass rush must be improved.
Adrian Clayborn is not a Chandler Jones/DeMarcus Lawrence/Von Miller pass rusher. He is disciplined and strong with excellent technique. Clayborn is the defensive end that the Patriots desperately needed last year. He should be an immediate upgrade in 2018 at defensive end.