The Right Side: Adrian Clayborn


Patriots defensive end Adrian Clayborn will appear in his second Super Bowl this Sunday, but he'll be playing in his first. He usually lines up on the right side of the defensive line, but the right side is not his strong side. Here's the story of No. 94, another Underdog in Super Bowl LIII.

Clayborn was born with Erb’s Palsy in his right arm; a condition caused by nerve damage in the neck and shoulder during birth. His right arm is smaller and weaker than his left with a limited range of motion. It’s not something you notice at first glance, but it’s a condition that makes shedding blockers and tackling ballcarriers extra challenging.  

Doctors told Clayborn he shouldn’t play football because of his arm when he was a kid. He wanted to play anyway, but his mother wouldn’t allow it. That eventually changed.

When Clayborn was 10 years old, he found out his older brother Anthony had been shot and killed in St. Louis. He doesn’t remember much about that night, but he remembers how it changed his mother.

“She basically put me and my older brother and sister on lockdown. We weren’t even allowed out of the house after dark… So when I came to her and told her I wanted to play football, I’m pretty sure she didn’t care that some doctors had said I shouldn’t play. It was still safer than me being out on the streets.”

Clayborn turned into a high school star at Webster Groves in St. Louis. His play earned him a scholarship at Iowa, then a seat in the green room at the 2011 NFL Draft. His physical limitations were well documented at the NFL combine and he expected to slide to the second day, but the Tampa Bay Bucs took him with the 20th pick in the first round – the first person with Erb’s Palsy to play in the NFL.

Since entering the league eight years ago, Clayborn has suffered four season-ending injuries, including a torn ACL and MCL (2012), a torn right bicep (2014), another torn MCL (2016) and a torn left bicep (2017).

The 2017 injury occurred in the playoffs when Clayborn was with the Atlanta Falcons. They went to the Super Bowl three weeks later and blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots with Clayborn on the sideline. After watching that game, he nearly retired.

Sunday marks the conclusion of Clayborn's first season in a Patriots jersey, and he might finally be on the right side of history. It’s not his stronger side, but he’ll take it.

Read: Adrian Clayborn’s Story (Players’ Tribune)

Justin Tangjanuary2019