BOSTON (CBS) — New Patriots defensive end Adrian Clayborn has racked up 30 sacks over his seven-year NFL career, but he’s had to work a little bit harder than others to get to the quarterback.
As Clayborn detailed in a post for The Players’ Tribune back in January, he was born with Erb’s Palsy, a condition that has limited what he can do with his right arm for his entire life:
I was born with something called Erb’s palsy. The best way I can explain it is that when I was born the doctor had to pull me out by my neck. In the process I suffered nerve damage on the right side of my body — basically in my neck, trap and bicep. So I’ve always had limitations in my right arm as far as strength and mobility.
Even today I have to lift different dumbbells when I’m doing curls or shoulder raises or whatever, because my right arm just isn’t as strong as my left. I wouldn’t say it’s night and day, but it’s a big difference. My right arm is also a little smaller than my left, and I can’t fully extend it — like, I can’t lock my right elbow so my arm is completely straight.
So all throughout my childhood, as far back as I can remember, I was doing physical therapy to strengthen my right arm.
Doctors didn’t think he should play football, but Clayborn didn’t let that keep him down. He went on to have a fantastic career at Iowa, getting to the quarterback 19 times in his four years with the Hawkeyes. He was drafted 20th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011 and had 7.5 sacks as a rookie, but a knee injury ended his second season after just three games. He played in all 16 games the following season and had 5.5 sacks, but played just one game in 2014 before another injury ended his year prematurely.
Clayborn had a much more successful three-year run with the Falcons after signing as a free agent in 2015, missing just three games in that stretch. But a biceps injury in the 2017 NFC Championship Game meant Clayborn had to watch Atlanta’s Super Bowl LI collapse against the Patriots from the sidelines, and he considered retiring after the season.
It’s a good thing he didn’t, as Clayborn returned and had one of the best years of his career. He logged a career-best 9.5 sacks for the Falcons in 2017, including a monster game when he recorded a franchise-record six sacks in Week 10 against the Dallas Cowboys.
Erb’s Palsy hasn’t slowed him down yet, and he isn’t going to let that happen now that he’s a member of the Patriots.
“I play the right side. That’s where I’ve been playing for most of my career. It doesn’t really affect me, besides in the weight room with doing some stuff,” Clayborn explained in a conference call with the New England media on Wednesday. “But on the field, it doesn’t really affect me. I’ve learned to compensate when I have to and I do what I’ve got to do to make the plays.”
Some have said Clayborn, who signed a two-year deal with the Patriots last week, is limited exclusively to third-down plays. It’s a reputation he wants to quickly prove wrong when he takes the field in New England.
“I believe that’s what people have pigeon-holed me in as a third-down player, but I know I can play first, second, third down if need be. That was my role in Atlanta because that’s what they asked me to do, but I mean, I can play all three downs if you ask me,” he said confidently. “I know I can rush the passer and I know I can set the edge in the run, so I mean, there’s a couple different positions that they believe I can play. So, it’s up to me to prove I can play them.”