Hawks in the NFL: Clayborn enters pivotal season in contract year

Clayborn out to prove his worth

Four years ago, Adrian Clayborn became the highest drafted Hawkeye player since 2006 when Tampa Bay took him with the No. 20 overall pick — no Hawkeye has been taken higher since.

In his rookie campaign, Clayborn looked like the real deal, posting 7.5 sacks as a defensive end for the Buccaneers. After an injury-plagued second season, Clayborn was underwhelming last season, posting just 5.5 sacks.

The Buccaneers declined to pick up Clayborn’s option for a fifth year added to his original four-year contract this past off-season.

That means that this year is pivotal for Clayborn. If he wants to remain a Buccaneer, he will have to show that he can play to the potential he showed in college and during his rookie season.

Even if Clayborn does not wish to return to Tampa Bay, he will need a productive year if he wants a high-paying contract when the season is over.

C.J. Fiedorowicz wants to prove he can contribute in passing game

Rookie Fiedorowicz was drafted by a team that is known for utilizing its tight ends in the Houston Texans.

With longtime starter Owen Daniels now in Baltimore, Fiedorowicz has an opportunity in training camp to earn playing time in the regular season.

The Texans have a new coach in Bill O’Brien, which may be a big reason Fiedorowicz got drafted.

O’Brien likes bringing in an extra tight end to boost the running game, as he did often in his time as a coach in New England.

The 6-6, 265-pound Fiedorowicz is one of the best run-blocking tight ends the draft had to offer, and he should act as an extra offensive lineman when the Texans want to wear down defenses with the running game.

Scouts were not high on his athleticism, which is why he was not picked higher than the fourth round. But at Iowa, he showed good hands and solid route-running ability.

If he can prove his value as a receiver in training camp, he could provide a much-needed weapon for a team with big questions at quarterback.

Kirksey challenging for starting spot

Christian Kirksey was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the third round and will enter training camp with a legitimate shot at winning a starting job.

The Browns brought in veteran Karlos Dansby, who is all but guaranteed a starting spot. But Kirksey, with a good training camp, can unseat Craig Robertson as the other inside linebacker in the Browns’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

The Browns defense improved greatly last season, but Robertson proved to be a liability in coverage.
Kirksey is considered skillful in coverage for a linebacker. New head coach Mike Pettine values speed over strength at the position, which may be why the Browns selected the former Hawkeye.
Bringing in Dansby and drafting Kirksey is evidence the Browns are trying to get faster on defense. If Kirksey can prove the Browns right with a good performance in training camp, they won’t hesitate to plug him into the starting lineup.

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