The Falcons are halfway through 2015 and, a few correctable issues notwithstanding, have improved drastically since last December. A big reason why they've taken such a big step forward is the production received from free agent signings.
Adrian Clayborn, one such acquisition, has reinvented his career under Dan Quinn, who's been moving the 2011 first-round pick from DE to DT in nickel packages. Game film shows Clayborn's blend of size and speed has made him a great fit inside, and the numbers agree.
So far this season, the 27-year-old leads Atlanta with eight quarterback hits and two sacks; his QB hurry total (eight) is only surpassed by Vic Beasley, Jr. and O'Brien Schofield. Clayborn has a team-high 18 QB pressures, as well, good for seventh among NFL defensive tackles.
Suffice it to say, he's quickly become a hugely important asset to the Falcons.
"As far as Clayborn goes, I think it's just the thing that stands out to me is the relentless competitor," Quinn said Monday. "It's down after down and the battle to will and go fight."
If Clayborn and a few other linemen—Beasley, Schofield and Jonathan Babineaux, in particular—can finish more often, it will have a gigantic effect on the defense as a whole. Opposing QBs will, of course, have less time to throw. The secondary won't have to spend as much time in coverage. And if other teams pick up on this development, they'll likely run the ball more against a rush D that has, by virtually all accounts, been excellent.
The talent is there to coordinate a threatening pass rush. Now, for Clayborn and his teammates alike, it's about putting everything together.
"Well, we're trying like crazy to find ways to affect the quarterback," said Quinn. "Sometimes we can all see just the sacks, and of course we're low in that and want that number up because not only are they sacks and lost yards, but it's also opportunities to get the football off the quarterback. Those are ones that we look at really hard."