Adrian Clayborn has been a Tampa Bay Buccaneer for less than 24 hours, but he already has a good feel for what the franchise expects of him.
As he said on Friday during his first visit to One Buccaneer Place as an actual Buccaneer – he was drafted 20th overall in the first round on Thursday night – Clayborn needs to come in and be 'that guy.'
'That guy'…what does that mean? We'll get to that in a minute, but you can probably guess.
First things first: Clayborn came awfully close to not being that guy, if draft scuttlebutt following Round One is accurate. The former Iowa defensive end got a feel during the NFL Scouting Combine and his various visits to team facilities that a few other teams had him in their crosshairs. Clayborn mentioned fellow NFC South teams Atlanta and New Orleans as teams from which he felt the love, and it's worth noting that the Saints did take a defensive end (Cameron Jordan) when they went on the clock four picks after the Bucs.
And, while this is a story that will almost certainly never have confirmation, Clayborn feels pretty sure he was headed to Cleveland if the Bucs hadn't made their move at #20. After trading from #6 overall down to #27 in the blockbuster deal with the Atlanta Falcons earlier in the night, the Browns later moved from that spot back to #21 in a swap with the Kansas City Chiefs. Cleveland took Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a choice met with good reviews by NFL analysts, but it's possible the Browns were trying to position themselves to grab Clayborn. That's what the former Hawkeye was led to believe.
It's the rare college prospect that bemoans being picked anywhere in the first round, and surely Clayborn would have been all smiles in Cleveland or Atlanta or New Orleans on Friday had things turned out differently. But Tampa was his preferred landing spot ever since a pre-draft visit to Bucs headquarters in which he became enchanted with the team, the situation and the 4-3 defense (his preferred scheme to play in). Clayborn saw 19 players drafted before him, including defensive ends Aldon Smith of Missouri, J.J. Watt of Wisconsin, Robert Quinn of North Carolina and Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue, but he wasn't exactly concerned about 'sliding.'
In fact, as the Bucs pick neared, Clayborn found himself peering around the Green Room at NFL Draft headquarters in New York City, trying to figure out if any of the remaining defensive linemen were on the phone. With the Bucs about to pick, he didn't want to see California's Cameron Jordan or Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers pick up the receiver.
"I knew I wanted to be in Tampa, so it was kind of a good thing that those guys were going…" said Clayborn of the other DE picks in the first 19 spots. He then paused, trying to complete the thought without coming off as arrogant.
"…but at the same time, I know my skill set. Without being cocky, it was good that those guys went, but I know I was better than them. Oh well. Those guys fit [their new teams'] schemes, though, which is also another reason I'm glad I went to Tampa. I wanted to be in a 4-3. I didn't want to be in a 3-4. It's a good thing. It all worked out. Those guys went to 3-4 teams, so it worked out."
The first round of the draft is a bit of a double-edged sword for the players who are invited to take part in the process in New York. Obviously, extremely high picks are validation of a player's skills and his potential in the league. On the other hand, the teams picking lower in the draft are, by necessity, coming off better seasons the following year. Presumably, a player picked in the last third of the opening round is closer to going to the playoffs than one picked in the top 10 picks, though turnarounds like the one the Bucs managed from 2009 (3-13) to 2010 (10-6) are not uncommon.
For Clayborn, the balance at #20 proved to be just right. He felt even better after Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who was taken third overall a year ago, called him on Thursday night to welcome him to the family.
"I'm going to step into a situation where there's going to be a lot of expected me but at the same time I have help along the way," said a grateful Clayborn. "Getting that call from Gerald last night and him telling me he's going to be there for me and lead me through it, that gives me confidence. It's good to step into a good situation. They have a group of solid guys that are already there."
McCoy's check-in was one of many, many phone calls Clayborn took part in Thursday night. There was a long round of interviews with various venues back in Tampa, and then dinner out with his assembled family and friends. His wake-up call for his flight to Florida was set for 5:30 a.m., but Clayborn never actually went to sleep. He was surprisingly peppy upon arrival after only a few stolen winks on the flight south, and that worked out well when a small crowd gathered at the airport to welcome him in impromptu fashion.
"People recognized me getting off the plane already," he said. "That was a little exciting. I don't think my smile ever left my face since about 10:30 last night. It's exciting to know that a team wants you to be 'that guy' for them."
Ah, yes. 'That guy.' Who exactly is 'that guy?'
Call him, perhaps, Lee Roy Sapp. Or Simeon Spires. They are few and far between, true difference-makers up front. Lee Roy Selmon, the Bucs' first pick in their first draft in 1976, was exactly that and is in the Hall of Fame. Warren Sapp, a truly dominant player on the inside, was too and will probably join Selmon in the hall. Simeon Rice was, for a period of about five years, one of the most feared pass-rushers in the game. Even Greg Spires, a low-profile addition in 2002, proved to be a game-changer at the height of his run with the Bucs.
Tampa Bay, which was 30th in the NFL in sacks in 2011 and has been searching for a real, consistent push up front since the days of Sapp and Rice, is betting that Clayborn will develop into the next difference-maker on the line, along with McCoy. So how can Clayborn be 'that guy?'
"Just be that guy that can provide a spark in the pass game and also the run game," he said. "I consider myself a football player, not just a pass-rush guy. I like playing both sides of the game. I think the run is more fun than the pass, just kicking an offensive lineman's ass and throwing him to the ground. That's fun to me. I like both sides.
"Be a guy both on and off the field, which I like doing, stuff both on and off the field, community stuff. I'm just excited that they believe in me that much, so I'm here to get it started."