Making the Leap – The New Class of Young Pass Rushers? (Pt. 3)

After the season drew to a close, a quick look at the top 10 fantasy DEs saw some familiar names in there, guys we knew would be heading the list like J.J. Watt, Calais Campbell and Jared Allen. These guys are proven pass rushers and may be in the prime of their career or even at a pinnacle they likely won’t replicate again.

But there were some other names on this list, a whole host of young DEs who emerged last season and showed a significant leap in production. All of these guys are relatively new to the league and have age on their side. We see fantasy analysts drooling over the new wave of WRs and QBs – but these guys have the potential to be long standing studs in a positional group that often suffers from fluctuations and unpredictability.

In this series I will look at their past production and how they made the leap to their current status – and whether that is sustainable in the future.

Here are the six guys I want to highlight from last season:

Robert Quinn, STL, 23 years old

Chandler Jones, NE, 23 years old

Muhammad Wilkerson, NYJ, 24 years old

Cameron Jordan, NO, 24 years old

Carlos Dunlap, CIN, 24 years old

Adrian Clayborn, TB, 25 years old

In part one I looked at Quinn and Jones, part two focused on Wilkerson and Jordan and this final installment will discuss Dunlap and Clayborn.

Carlos Dunlap

  • Selected 2.22 in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Bengals.
  • Listed as 6’6” and 280lbs.
  • Born Feb 28th 1989 (25.6 years old at start of next season)
  • Plays as Defensive End in a 4-3 Defence.


Season Snaps Tackles TFL Assists FFs (R) Sacks PDs TDs FP
2010 287 19 10 4 (1) 9 3 0 104
2011 423 11 4.5 11 (1) 4.5 3 1 71.5
2012 601 33 12.5 8 4(3) 7.5 3 1 142.5
2013 949 19 8 19 4(1) 7.5 6 0 155

Of the 5 players analysed so far, Dunlap has the most NFL experience at 4 seasons, so we have a larger body of work to view in his case. his stats are remarkable, starting his NFL season with 9 sacks on just 287 snaps is phenomenal, similar to Aldon Smith’s rookie season with San Francisco in terms of sack/snap ratios. Dunlap’s snaps have increased steadily year on year, but he hasn’t matched his rookie season in terms of sacks despite his snaps more than trebling upto 2013. This will be because his role as a 3rd down pass rusher has changed to an every down pass rusher and his prominence was being recognised by the offensive linemen who made stopping his moves a priority. It would be foolish to expect him to treble sack numbers with a trebling of snaps. What we can see here though is all of his stats, including Fantasy Points, move both up and down, in almost random fashion. His last two years have shown some consistency however. I’ll analyse his last 3 season of PFF performance to see what trends we can find.

Here is his 2011 season by PFF Grade:

 Dunlap 2011 pff

A great year for Dunlap overall, and although the stats show a halving of sacks coinciding with an increase in snaps, we can understand that Dunlap’s drop in stats was more down to him being schemed around and of course a change in his role in the offence. This is great for his prospects as this is a down year statistically for Dunlap. In 2010 Dunlaps 9 sacks went along with just 3 QB Hits and 11 Hurries, but whilst he halved his sack number to 4.5, his Hits went up to 13 and Hurries up to 29. These stats give us an indication that Dunlap was not being less disruptive, but his changed role was making it more difficult to get those all-important sacks. Weeks 10-14 saw Dunlap miss 4 games with a hamstring issue, so his production here is not even with a full slate of games.

Here are his 2012 PFF Grades:

 Dunlap 2012 pff

Dunlap’s performances are still pretty impressive, though we must take into consideration that he missed the first two games of the season, this time a knee strain put paid to his season’s start. Despite this, Dunlap flew out of the blocks with a sack, 5 Hits and 7 Hurries in his first 3 outings. Dunlap managed 2 games without even a QB Hurry, but still finished the season with 34 Hurries and 14 Hits – very similar to the previous year yet Dunlap played more snaps and missed fewer games. Whilst I wouldn’t call it a regression, Dunlap was much less disruptive this season. His increased tackle total (11 up to 33) helped him perform better in fantasy football however.

Here are Dunlap’s 2013 PFF Grades:

 Dunlap 2013 pff

We can determine from his grades that Dunlap was consistent last season, and despite 4 negative ratings, the outlook is pretty sunny overall. This was Dunlap’s first season as an every down DE (7th most snaps among 4-3 DEs). Dunlap actually finished the year on the =3rd most QB Hits with 20 and his Hurries rose up to 41. However one issue that sticks out for me is Dunlaps Pass Rushing PFF Rating. The figures above are overall PFF ratings and Dunlaps Pass Rush Rating is actually -5.3. The 28th highest for 4-3DEs (min. 25% of team snaps). The season before it was 7.5, so a significant decrease. This rating can be taken with a pich of salt however, as plenty of big IDP DEs had poor Pass Rush ratings, and this is likely just a result of the DE having so many attempts at rushing the passer. Unless your league bizarrely punishes snaps without any generated pressure, I wouldn’t get too worked up with a few negative ratings.

What changes in 2014?

The biggest change comes in the loss of fellow DE Michael Johnson, who has joined the Buccaneers. Johnson had been with the Bengals since the 2009 draft. Johnson’s last 2 years with the Bengals have been excellent, recording 18 sacks, 25 Hits and 75 Hurries. I think this is going to hurt Dunlaps value slightly but it will be offset by the emergence of Vontaze Burfict who also required attention from the opposing offensive line. In addition to this, Geno Atkins will return in the middle of the D Line, commanding a lot of OL attention. The new face opposite Dunlap will be a mixture of Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers and second year DE Margus Hunt. Gilberry is a capable pass rusher (9 sacks last year) and will likely take the majority of the snaps. However, the long term option may be Margus Hunt who spent the season learning his role in the NFL after being taken in the second round last year.


Dunlap has still to reach his peak, but losing Johnson to the Bucaneers makes him probably the best or second best pass rusher on the defence. Only top level DEs can command so much attention and still produce effective fantasy points, and I don’t think Dunlap is at that level quite yet. I predict Dunlap will be effective next year and can reach 120-140 fantasy points, but I’m not sure he is still going to be in the conversation for Elite DEs this time next season. I would say Dunlap is a sell high, with reasonable promise for the future.

Adrian Clayborn

  • Selected at 1.20 in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Buccaneers
  • Listed as 6’3” and 280lbs.
  • Born July 6th 1988 (26.2 years old at start of next season)
  • Plays as Defensive End in a 4-3 Defence.


Season Snaps Tackles TFL Assists FFs (R) Sacks PDs TDs FP
2011 874 27 10 13 3 7.5 1 0 144
2012 187 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 3.5
2013 955 44 19 20 2 6 1 0 141

Clayborn differs from our other DEs as his 3 year NFL career has a gaping hole in it – his second year was cut short in week 3 after he hurt his right knee in a loss to Dallas. In these circumstances I will treat Clayborn’s 3rd year as his second in terms of NFL experience.

Clayborn had a very impressive rookie season, recording 7.5 sacks for the Bucs in 2011. His snap count tells us that he was featured on the defence regularly, as is expected of a first round pass rusher from what we have seen in previous articles. His second full NFL season was very similar in many respects, his snap count rose by around 10%, moving him close to the 1000 mark last season. His fantasy points remained consistent, but crucially his tackle number rose as he managed to get involved in more plays in the running game. Clayborn’s two full NFL seasons have shown a good ability to shed blocks and reach the QB. In 2011 he had 10 Hits and 32 Hurries, whilst in 2013 he almost replicated those figures, with 11 Hits and 31 Hurries. Clayborn’s year to year consistency is pleasing, as we know that DEs can score sporadically and often with no clear pattern.

Let’s take a look at his PFF grades from that rookie year, 2011:

 clayborn 2011 pff

Not spectacular, but certainly encouraging for a rookie season. Clayborn’s 7.5 sacks came across 8 difference weeks, making him a pretty consistent fantasy player that season.  He never had a week where he failed to get any pressure on the QB, and ended the season better then he started in that respect. His pass rush rating is actually very impressive, as he scored 11.1 for the season in pass rushing (scoring -0.2 overall). Clayborn’s effective pass rushing so early on is a great sign.

Since 2012 was an almost empty season because of injury, let’s look at 2013:

 clayborn 2013 pff

Coming off a missed year through injury, Clayborn’s second NFL season was much poorer than his first in terms of PFF ratings. His overall grade slipped from -0.2 to -14.2, and his pass rush fell alarmingly, from +11.1 in 2011 to -16.3 last year. His rating slump is not backed up by a slip in stats, and this is likely down to the way PFF grade players. His missed tackle number goes from 8 in 2011 to 17 in 2013. The low rating suggests he wasn’t efficient at getting to the QB generally, rather than a lack of QB interruptions per se. As fantasy leagues don’t punish players for failing to generate any pressure, this is not so big a deal. I would say that as Clayborn was probably the best pass rusher from DE on the Bucs last year (the only other DE to feature was Daniel Te’o-Nesheim, whose overall rating was -29.), he was comfortably handled at the line by double teaming lineman. If Te’o-Nesheim was any sort of player then he should have been more effective whilst playing opposite a player like Clayborn, but that didn’t happen and Clayborn suffered.

What Changes in 2014?

Frankly, a lot changes in 2014. The Buccaneers moved in free agency to sign up Michael Johnson from the Bengals. Johnson will almost certainly line up at Right End – Clayborn’s position. This leaves Clayborn’s future at the Bucs up in the air. A move to Left End would harm his fantasy value significantly, as the Left End would be less involved in pass rushing and focused on run stopping. Moreover, Clayborn has been a Right End all through his career, so he wouldn’t necessarily be a shoe-in for the Left Tackle starters’ role. Former NFL Defensive End and current SBNation Blogger Stephen White (@SGW94) spoke on the ‘What the Buc?’ Podcast about this a few weeks ago, and didn’t expect Clayborn to remain a starter on the Bucs Defensive Line. White said:

“Adrian Clayborn can’t play left end. Why? Because that’s where teams run the ball, that’s where they put their tight end all the time. I’m not going to say he can’t, but right now he’s having trouble playing against tight ends head up. That was one of the reasons why they had him flip-flopping this past season. So as crazy as it sounds, I think Da’Quan Bowers has a much better chance of starting and being on this roster at the end of the August than Adrian Clayborn right now.”


If White is indeed proved correct, then Clayborn’s fantasy value is hanging by a thread, and barring a trade, this may be the height of his value.


Clayborn’s impressive rookie season has been overshadowed by an injury in 2012 and his 2013 performances dropped significantly, especially in pass rushing. Whilst Clayborn has shown talent at reaching the passer, his future in Tampa Bay is very much uncertain, and the signing of Michael Johnson is perhaps a statement that the organisation do not see Clayborn as their DE for the future. Unless Clayborn can be traded to a RE needy team, this is a hammer blow to his fantasy value. Even if he wins the LE starting job, he is unlikely to be able to generate enough QB pressure to be anywhere near a top 10 DE next year. If you own Clayborn, be prepared to trade him but only at a high price, in the hope that your trade partner doesn’t realise the situation he is in. I wouldn’t get rid of Clayborn, but be willing to trade him for the right price, as he is on borrowed time at Tampa.

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Find Matt on Twitter @FFMattLane or leave comments on the article below!

Click here to listen to what Stephen White had to say on the ‘What the Buc?’ Podcast

NB: Special thanks to PFF for their wonderful statistics, which helped me build this article. Head to for enough stats to

 All stats are a combination of and PFF.


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