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Point/counterpoint: Which Hawkeye will have the best NFL career?

BY DI STAFF | MAY 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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Adrian Clayborn (Tampa Bay, first round, 20th overall)

Adrian Clayborn was the first Hawkeye taken in the NFL draft for a reason. He's the most NFL ready.

As a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he will be the most successful Hawkeye of this draft class.

The nation saw how good Clayborn could be in the 2009 season. He accumulated 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss and completely dominated Georgia Tech's offense in the 2010 Orange Bowl. He was the anchor of that vaunted Iowa defense.

Although Clayborn's statistics were down in his senior season, that was more the result of double teams and increased attention than a slip in performance. When he broke free from those double teams, he was still the player who dominated Georgia Tech.

With the Bucs, Clayborn will be able to step in as a starter right away. Tampa Bay tied for 30th in the NFL with 26 sacks last season, and Clayborn will improve that right away. Under a defensive-minded head coach such as Raheem Morris, Clayborn will be able to improve on his weaknesses and be a star for Tampa Bay.

Clayborn won't have to be the focal point of a defense like he was at Iowa. The Buccaneer D-line could end up being formidable. He will play alongside 2010 first-round pick Gerald McCoy and Da'Quan Bowers, picked in the second round of this year's draft, could also join Clayborn if Bowers' knee holds up. Those three form a very formidable line for the future of the Buccaneers.

Clayborn absolutely has the talents to be an extremely productive NFL player. If he can show the dominance he had during his junior year, he will be a Pro-Bowl-caliber defensive end for many years.

— by Ryan Murphy

Christian Ballard (Minnesota, fourth round, 106th overall)

Christian Ballard will have the most immediate effect of any Iowa player drafted this season because he's in a position to start immediately. The Minnesota Vikings got a talent who most scouts saw as a second rounder with the 106th pick in the draft — a fourth-round selection. Minnesota is filling a need because Pat Williams has stated he's going to leave once free agency resumes, meaning Ballard should be able to compete for and get the starting job in a 4-3 defense that needs two tackles.

Now, a starting Ballard will be mentored by Pro Bowler Kevin Williams after he comes back from a four-game, drug-related suspension to start the season — coincidental, because Ballard's stock may have fallen after a Fox Sports report that he failed a drug test at the NFL Combine.

Compare this situation with Adrian Clayborn's, who will be successful in Tampa Bay but will have to learn on the job alongside another rookie Da'Quan Bowers. There's a lot of value to having a good mentor in the league (see: Aaron Rodgers), which Clayborn will lack in Tampa Bay.

As far as Ballard's failed drug test, I wouldn't be concerned. In fact, I'd be more concerned about the fact that he knew he had a drug test and didn't stop taking drugs in time. It's an odd type of discipline issue more than a character issue. But plenty of former players have failed drug tests and had respectable NFL careers afterwards.

Few remember Warren Sapp failed his drug test (with positives of both marijuana and cocaine) before coming into the league, leading to some concern with his potential, but he went on to be on of the greatest players in Buccaneer's history.

Ballard's situation is perfect for learning, and that means he'll mature a lot faster than the other Iowa players.

— by Ian Martin

Ricky Stanzi (Kansas City, fifth round, 135th overall)

Nothing against the five other former Hawkeyes who had their names called in Radio City Music Hall over the weekend, but quarterback Ricky Stanzi will have the group's best NFL career.

No other Iowa player steps into such an ideal situation. The Chiefs continue to set themselves up for long-term success after a 2010-11 campaign in which they went 10-6 and made the playoffs. They entered the draft with one of the league's worst receiving corps, but they bolstered the attack by taking Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin in the first round.

Plus, Stanzi is pretty darn familiar with Chiefs' tight end Tony Moeaki: The duo combined for five touchdowns and 503 yards in the 18 games they played together at Iowa. Having four solid targets in Baldwin, Moeaki, Dexter McCluster, and Dwayne Bowe will only help Stanzi.

Being able to fall back on the league's best rushing offense won't hurt, either. Kansas City rode Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles for an NFL-leading 164 yards per game last year, which takes quite a bit of pressure off the quarterback.

Stanzi needs to be patient, much like Aaron Rodgers was in Green Bay, but he can learn quite a bit from Matt Cassell — who did his learning under some guy named Tom Brady — and be ready to take the reins in a few years.

What it really all boils down to is, the Chiefs have tremendous upside — much more than Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Clayborn and Ballard will carve out nice careers for themselves, but they'll have to do it on their own. They don't have the help around them that Stanzi will have in Kansas City. He could do very little and still be the Manzi, so don't be surprised to see him wearing a Super Bowl ring or two by the time he retires.

— by Seth Roberts


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