One of the underrated mysteries of the first round of the NFL draft 16 days from now is in which spot will defensive end Adrian Clayborn be taken. It's not just the mystery of which team will take the former Iowa Hawkeye that's interesting, but also how he got to this point in life, overcoming an accident at birth to do so.
Clayborn suffered a broken collarbone and nerve damage when his right arm was removed from his mother's womb awkwardly during delivery. And though he's found ways to compensate through years of rehab and hard work, the effects of the injury are still felt. His upper-body strength is suspect. While the 205-pound cornerback Jimmy Smith bench-pressed 225 pounds 24 times at the scouting combine, Clayborn, who weights 286 pounds, did it 17 times. In addition, Clayborn cannot extend his right arm fully because of the injury. His wingspan is significantly shorter than other pass-rushers, and that matters in the minds of some scouts because they fear he won't be able to fully extend the arm to push off blockers.
Some teams are worried Clayborn will have to play one side, the right side, as a pro, because he might get overpowered if he had to fight off a strong offensive lineman or tight end using predominantly his right side. Others, like one coach strongly interested in him, actually see a plus in what he's overcome. "It shows what kind of guy he is, to have overcome that,'' the coach told me. "I love him. I love everything about him.''
The relative lack of strength is something Clayborn worked on with the Iowa training staff and conditioning coaches, and he became one of the best pass-rushers in the country. "It really hasn't affected me in my four years of college," Clayborn told me. "But I know my overall upper body strength has to improve. My entire upper body can get stronger, and I know that. There's no doubt in my mind that I will be able to get stronger."
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.
One scout told me he loves Clayborn as a player and has a mid-first-round grade on him. But he's unsure of how good he'll be in the NFL if he doesn't get stronger.
"Tight ends in the NFL will be able to handle him better than college tight ends did," the scout said. "And the tackles he'll face are quicker. But I wouldn't bet against him. He's a relentless player."
Clayborn sees himself as a defensive end in the 4-3. Teams will want him to play wide to get out of the traffic that could compromise his upper-body strength. But you figure he'll be stronger after a couple of years in an NFL strength program. The shame of the current work stoppage for him is it could cost him the ability to play lots of snaps early if he doesn't gain strength.
Now onto your e-mail:
• IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR.
I remember the first time it ever happened to me. I was covering the Giants in 1986. They had four second-round draft choices that year, and a couple of days before the draft I heard that one of their coaches went to Columbus to secretly work out linebacker Pepper Johnson. Proud of my discovery, I called Bill Parcells. "Are you interested in Pepper Johnson?" I asked. Parcells' disgust came through the phone. "Pepper Johnson?" Parcells hissed. "Pfffffftt."
See how Parcells did that? He didn't say he had no interest in Pepper Johnson, he just said in a derisive way what he thought of Johnson. Or so I thought. Of course the Giants picked Johnson in the second round and I felt like an idiot for not playing it up more before the draft.
That's what a lot of the pre-draft hype is. Coaches and general managers might not lie to you, but they certainly might evade the truth a lot.
The first team I ever covered in the NFL, Cincinnati in 1984, was a learning experience for me. And one of the best things I learned was from coach Sam Wyche, who told me when he called around the league to find out draft information from his peers, that he'd always say to his league acquaintances, "If you can't tell me the truth, that's fine. But just don't lie to me." That is something I've said to people around the league around draft time for years, and I know not to be disappointed when I get misled.
• LIBERTY MUTUAL OR GEICO?
First of all, Brady was picked 199th in 2000. If you're Brady, and you got drafted by the Montreal Expos out of high school, and you had college teams chasing you to be a major-college quarterback, and you play at a high level for a Big 10 team, you're going to be pretty disappointed if you end up selling insurance and not playing a sport professionally. Maybe he owes all insurance salesmen an apology, but I'm sure you can see where the guy was coming from.
• THIS IS A VERY GOOD QUESTION.
I'm sure the NFL would not allow teams to give prospects playbooks to familiarize themselves with their system. But in a way, that's unfair. Teams have been told by the league office that they can't do anything this year that they wouldn't do in any normal year. And in a normal year, rookies would be allowed to take playbooks and begin to study systems. That's the case many times before the draft. I know it happened with one team in 2008 when it was looking for a quarterback and it gave playbooks to two of them before they made a visit to that team's complex: The team wanted to know whether a play was a quick study or not and put each of the quarterbacks to the test at the facility during their visits. I'm sure that Carolina can't do that with Newton, because of the sensitivity in working without a collective bargaining agreement right now, but I do think teams should be able to do that.
• I DOUBT IT.
Very unlikely. The league isn't going to want to open the doors to free agency for three days and then close them when it files an appeal. I don't think the new league year will start until a ruling has been made on the appeal.
• HAVING THE FIRST OVERALL PICK TRUMPS EVERYTHING.
That question has been asked and answered many times, and not only by Hurney. If you have a chance to take a player who you believe is or can be a franchise quarterback, you have to do it. It doesn't matter that you picked a quarterback in the second round last year -- unless that second-round pick has shown so much potential that you're fairly sure he's going to be your long-term quarterback. Jimmy Clausen has not done that. So, if you think there's a guy at the top of the draft the next year, you pick him, and hope you don't have the first pick again for a long time.