Point/Counterpoint: Which Iowa alum is having the best NFL rookie season?

BY DI STAFF | DECEMBER 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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Adrian Clayborn, Tampa Bay DE

This season has been disappointing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs started 4-2, then tumbled to seven-straight losses.

But one of the brightest spots of the bleak season has been the play of defensive end Adrian Clayborn.

Clayborn — chosen by Tampa Bay with the 20th pick of the 2011 NFL draft — leads the Buccaneers with 5.5 sacks on the season, and he has come on strong in Tampa Bay's last four games. The former Hawkeye has recorded at least a half-sack in every game since the Buccaneers' loss to Green Bay on Nov. 20, including a career-high 5 tackles against Carolina on Dec. 4.

Each of Tampa Bay's last five games has seen Clayborn record numerous solo tackles, as well.

The St. Louis native also forced a fumble in one of Tampa Bay's biggest wins of the season, a 16-13 triumph over the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 25.

Clayborn is having the best campaign of the former Hawkeyes making their début seasons. He has started all 13 of Tampa's games; Ricky Stanzi has none, and Karl Klug only has one. Clayborn has recorded at least one tackle in every game except the opener. Klug has failed to record a tackle three times, and Stanzi hasn't taken a snap. Clayborn's impact has been felt, and he has had one of the strongest seasons of all Hawkeyes currently in the NFL.

Despite the tough season for the Bucs, the play of Clayborn has given Tampa Bay fans a glimpse into what may lie ahead with No. 94 anchoring the defensive line.

— by Ryan Murphy

Karl Klug, Tennessee DT

In 2010, one Iowa defensive lineman recorded 57 tackles — including 13 for a loss — and 5.5 sacks. His teammate, meanwhile, had slightly less impressive statistics: 52 tackles, 7 for a loss, and 3.5 sacks.

The first player was Karl Klug. And despite a less-productive season, the second player — Adrian Clayborn, of course — got more publicity and a much higher draft selection. Clayborn went in the first round, while Klug went in the fifth to Tennessee.

Clayborn has also attracted more buzz in the NFL. And Clayborn's 6.5 sacks are just a nose above Klug's 6. But Klug's ability to come up with big plays for a winning team make him Iowa's best NFL rookie this season.

In just the second game of his career, he forced two fumbles on two tackles and helped the Titans upset the Baltimore Ravens. He recorded two sacks of Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees as the Titans brought the New Orleans Saints down to the final minute. In addition to his team-leading sack total, Klug has swatted four passes at the line of scrimmage, one of which led to an interception against the Buccaneers.

What's most impressive of all for the 6-3 rookie is that he's making all these contributions to a good defense and a winning team. The Titans are 7-6 and in second place in the AFC South, and Klug's contributions have helped them hold opponents under 20 points per game this season — the sixth-best scoring defense in the NFL. Clayborn, meanwhile, is toiling away on the 4-9 Buccaneers.

And while he has recorded some good individual stats, Clayborn plays on the NFL's 31st-ranked scoring defense, its 27th-ranked passing defense, and its 28th-ranked rushing defense.

Klug was better than his more-celebrated teammate in their final college seasons.

He has been a better NFL rookie, too.

— by Sam Louwagie

Ricky Stanzi, Kansas City QB

Bear with me.

I'm well aware that Ricky Stanzi hasn't taken a snap in the regular season. His only view of the field has been from the sideline, where he appears to have traded in his helmet for a goofy stocking cap.

But all in all, Stanzi has had the best year of any Hawkeye rookie.

Think about it like this: Stanzi hasn't played, so Stanzi hasn't messed up.

And because he hasn't messed up, Stanzi has the Chiefs' fans — both of them — clamoring for him to play.

After all, Kansas City has been suffering through the worst quarterback in the history of the sport. Tyler Palko has been horrendous to the tune of 2 touchdowns and 8 turnovers in six games.

Head coach Todd Haley's firing on Monday morning could throw a wrench into the argument, though. It seems unlikely that whoever replaces him would continue to play Tyler the Terrible over the gunslinger that went 25-9 at Iowa and left the Hawkeyes as one of the most beloved sports figures the state has ever seen.

In other words, Stanzi could very well see the first regular-season action of his career on Dec. 18. Against Green Bay. Talk about baptism by fire.

But until then, stats don't always tell the whole story. Until then, Stanzi has had a more successful year than Adrian Clayborn or Karl Klug (or Tyler Sash, or Christian Ballard, or Ryan Donahue, or Allen Reisner, or Jeff Tarpinian).

Stanzi's potential hasn't been sullied by the broken plays and mental mistakes that are routine for most young players. The sky is still the limit.

He's still the Manzi.

— by Seth Roberts

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