Tip of the cap to Don Banks of Sports Illustrated for putting together a piece on John Clay that piqued my interest, and I looked a little bit further into the running back. I left Clay off of the 'running back' UDFA post because I sort of scoffed at his combine times and moved on. He ran a pretty sub-par 4.87 at 6'0, 230 at the Combine and my guess is that a lot of teams may have just written him off there as well. Pretty strange for a guy that was the Big-10 offensive player of the year in 2009 after rushing for 1500 yards and 18 touchdowns and who followed up '09 with a pretty solid showing in 2010 with 1014 yards and 14 touchdowns as Wisconsin made their way to the Rose Bowl.
Though Clay failed to impress when he really needed to at the Combine, just 10 days later he ran a 4.72 and added 4.5 inches to his vertical at his Pro Day so it appears he really did just have a bad day in Indianapolis. The other thing to keep in mind is that during Clay's career at Wisconsin he played at anywhere between 250 and all the way up to 270 so you can't really hope that he's a burner. What he is though, is a punch you in the mouth, stiff-arm you Beastmode style, downhill running back that averaged 5.5 yards per carry while running for 3414 yards and 41 touchdowns in a 3-year span against Big-10 defenses.
In reality Clay's Combine performance wasn't the reason he was passed over by so many teams. Instead, it's more likely due to the fact Clay is a bit of a liability in the pass game and isn't going to contribute much on special teams. As his own agent told Clay prior to the draft, "Your value is as a first- and second-down runner, and that makes you a one-dimensional guy. Now, your one dimension is really good, but sometimes one-dimensional guys can fall through the cracks, or fall in the draft." And that's exactly what happened.
If you're a regular reader of the blog you'll know that I would like to see the Hawks to invest in a fullback to help with the running game. I'd love to see Oakland's Marcel Reece or Baltimore's Le'Ron McClain signed in free agency but just looking at the Hawks modus operandi in the last year it seems more likely they'll take a chance on a low-cost, low-risk player and John Clay might be someone they could have interest in. Clay would be a dependable short yardage ball-carrier and a legitimate lead blocker at 250 pounds. As Don Banks put it, "at 245-250 pounds, Clay should be able to hammer away at a tired defense, and help wrap up a game by moving the chains and protecting a lead. Somewhat the same role Brandon Jacobs started out in at the beginning of his Giants career." Though this assumes the Hawks would be protecting a lead, it does fit what they're trying to institute down the road with their new dedication to the run.
Clay protects the football, fights for yardage, keeps his legs moving, and has a track record of success in short yardage situations, something the Hawks were miserable at in 2010. He's big enough to play a hybrid running back/fullback will have a chip on his shoulder. Just food for thought.