Eagles Breakout Candidate #2 - Keenan Clayton

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 01: Keenan Clayton #57 of the Philadelphia Eagles reacts after a play against the Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field on January 1, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

This is the latest in a series we've be doing here on BGN written by John Breitenbach (@PFF_John), who is a big Eagles fan and best known for his work on Pro Football Focus. Check out the rest of the series here.

Following the positive theme of the Akeem Jordan article I thought I'd post my thoughts on third year linebacker Keenan Clayton. Clayton, a fourth round pick in 2010, has only been used very sparingly so far in his young career but has shown potential when he has gotten an opportunity. He was undersized coming out of Oklahoma, even playing some at safety, meaning the coaches have been hesitant to play him on run downs. If 2011 is anything to go by (despite the small sample size) that may be changing and Clayton now looks like he's more capable of taking on blocks.

Countering the trend

2011 was simply an astonishing year for NFL tightends. Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham put up numbers that would make most receivers jealous. There's certainly been a shift in focus to the athletic TEs who simply can't be covered by linebackers or safeties. I think this is where Clayton's potential truly lies. Here's a look at his coverage numbers, with the average for 4-3 OLBs in 2011 in brackets:

Snaps

Targets

Receptions

Catch %

Yards

Yards/target

TDs

INTs

PDs

159

29

18

62.1 (76.8)

191

6.6 (7.0)

1

0

2

The fact he's only played 159 snaps means we can't take too much from this but on the whole he's been a little above average when on the field.

Now let's look at a couple of examples starting with the Colts game in 2010. This play actually isn't included in the above statistics because of a penalty:

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Clayton has deep responsibility on this play. Collie runs a post route.

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He breaks on the ball while it's in the air.

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Clayton simultaneously gets a hand on the ball and out-muscles the receiver causing the incompletion.

This is a play from the 2011 Week 14 matchup against the Dolphins:

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Clayton has to cover Fasano who runs a quick out then releases into the endzone.

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He does a great job of being physical with him initially ...

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Then attacks the ball at its highest point and actually makes an impressive catch (he lands out of bounds).

Here's another play from last year this time against the Redskins.

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Clayton covers Logan Paulsen's out route with ease.

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Again he does a good job being physical with the receiver within five yards.

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Clayton gets in good position and knocks another one down.

Improving against the run

When Clayton was a rookie it was clear he struggled with the physical aspects of playing LB. There's some evidence that he's improved in that area and that his recognition is getting better.

Here's a play from 2010 against the Cowboys:

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Dallas run right at him and Clayton has to deal with a blocker in the hole.

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Clayton and the blocker meet head on in the hole.

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But in the end it's no contest with the FB easily clearing the lane for a first down run.

Now here's a play against the Jets from 2011:

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New York try to run a draw but Clayton reads it and beats the lineman to make the tackle.

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Clayton holds off the lineman who reacted slower.

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A solid tackle brings the runner down after a gain of just one.

Final thoughts

Clayton still has a ways to go if he wants to see any meaningful action on the Eagle's defense. Still he's shown improvement from year 1 to year 2 and if the same happens as we move into year 3, he could surprise some people. He's buried on the depth chart at the moment but one injury could give him the chance he needs. Clayton also tends to show up in pre-season games (as he did in his rookie year) and he should thrive against third stringers. The Oklahoma product at least deserves a chance to show what he can do in the nickel, where he has the potential to be better than the rest of the Eagles' linebackers. .

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