Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn is arguably the team's best pass rusher. Yesterday, just hours after star cornerback Desmond Trufant's season-ending trip to injured reserve was announced, Clayborn suffered a serious knee injury. Remarkably I forgot to include his injury in last night's post-game injury presser. I blame acute intoxication.
We now know that Clayborn partially tore his meniscus and tore his MCL. At best, Clayborn returns in a month. (That's the consensus right now.) But here's the problem: they don't know the extent of the damage yet. Head coach Dan Quinn discussed the injury and was deliberately vague in his press conference today. Per Quinn, he will see the doctor again and they'll update us Wednesday. Given how the Trufant injury played out, I wouldn't count on Clayborn returning anytime soon. So in short, someone will need to replace him (i.e., take his snaps) for the stretch run.
Make no mistake, Clayborn will be missed. He's racked up a team-high 15 QB hits and 4.5 sacks. He's also played about 2/3 of the defensive snaps. That production won't be easily replicated. So where do the Falcons start? There's a few possibilities.
Phillip Wheeler filled in at defensive end yesterday after Clayborn left the game and he's played that role before. Dwight Freeney could viably see an increase in snaps, assuming his body will hold up. The sleeper pick for filling in during Clayborn's absence is Ra'Shede Hageman. Hageman was inactive yesterday and has seemingly fell out of favor with the coaching staff. This could be his opportunity to work himself back into the rotation.
No matter who takes Clayborn's snaps, the defense is objectively worse without him. We can't realistically replace his production with the current roster.
What say you?