Cliff Avril knows failure.
A three-star recruit out of Green Cove Springs, FL, Avril was 247’s 59th-best recruit in the state in 2004. It would be an accomplishment if you recognized five of the 58 names listed ahead of him now. He was the 24th-ranked outside linebacker in the nation, behind guys like Lawrence Timmons, Dannell Ellerbe, and Jerod Mayo, but not much else by NFL standards. Avril chose to attend Purdue, a team that had been a regular in bowl games under head coach Joe Tiller, but that would soon change.
Avril played 10 games at strongside linebacker in 2005 then moved to defensive end in 2006 and recorded 30 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, and two interceptions in 27 games. However, Purdue went 0-8 against top 25 opponents in his three seasons, regularly getting blown out in those contests. Avril ended his career on a high note, with the Boilermakers beating Central Michigan 51-48 in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit.
Four months later, the Lions would select him with the 92nd overall pick to make it his semi-permanent home.
Prior to that, Avril put up numbers at the combine that if he was a prospect today, Pete Carroll would probably shoot and kill a rhino if that’s what it took to make him a Seahawk. At 6’3, 253 lbs, Avril ran a 4.51 (third-best by OLB, best of any DE), had a 6.90 three-cone time (best of any DE, fourth among OLB), and fan-fucking-tastic 1.50 10-yard split. His college numbers were excellent, but he was overshadowed a little by playing on a regularly ho-hum Purdue defense that allowed 48 points in a bowl game.
Literally the first sentence of his listed STRENGTHS on NFL.com draft profile is a back-handed compliment:
Positives: Undersized to be any every down defensive end, but he has good upper-body muscle tone, ideal arm length, big hands, tapered thighs and calves, along with the feet, balance and change-of-direction agility to bring better value as a strong-side linebacker
In his last draft as GM for the Detroit Lions, Matt Millen did exactly one thing right: He traded up from 111 to 92, giving up a future fourth round pick, to select Avril. Chris Burke of SI called it the Lions best draft trade of the last decade. After only three seasons in the league, DetroitPride’s Sean Yuille already was calling the selection of Avril the fourth-best draft move since 2001.
Avril went after these defensive ends and linebackers:
Chris Long, Vernon Gholston, Derrick Harvey, Lawrence Jackson (SEA), Phillip Merling, Calais Campbell, Quentin Groves, Jason Jones, Kendall Langford, Chris Ellis, Keith Rivers, Jerod Mayo, Curtis Lofton, Jordon Dizon, Tavares Gooden, Dan Connor, Shawn Crable, Bryan Smith, and Bruce Davis.
Now, the good news was that Avril was in the NFL. The bad news is that he was with the Lions. During his rookie season in 2008, Detroit became the first team in NFL history to go 0-16. The then-22 year old Avril had now never beaten a top-25 team or an NFL team through five seasons of above-high school ball. Still, Avril was effective from the jump.
He recorded his first career sack against Washington’s Jason Campbell on October 26, 2008. Fittingly, it was a strip sack, something that he’s become known for throughout his career. As a rookie on one of the worst teams in league history, Avril had five sacks, four forced fumbles, and 22 tackles. He would add 5.5 sacks in year two, 8.5 in year three, and finally 11 sacks, six forced fumbles in year four. The Lions placed the franchise tag on him when he refused their offer of a three-year, $30 million deal; note that at the time, Mario Williams signed a six-year, $100 million deal with the Buffalo Bills.
In his final season in Detroit, he had 9.5 more sacks, but the general feeling was that he was moving backwards now in his career. Here’s what PFF had to say at the time:
Cliff Avril, DE (92nd overall pick in 2008): When Detroit look back on the last draft class of Matt Millen, they can at least thank him for landing Cliff Avril. Not coming off his best year by any stretch, which made it easier for the Lions to let him hit the open market, but a talented pass rusher nonetheless.
It’s complimentary but not that complimentary. The Lions had gone to the playoffs in 2011, but regressed to 4-12 in 2012, which helped Avril hit free agency under the radar. It seems like just how he came out of Purdue shouldering the burden of the team’s failures, so too did he have to overcome the fact that Detroit is a horrible organization. Not to say that Avril wasn’t regularly listed among the top 10 free agents that year, but the end result was way, way below what he was actually worth.
The Seahawks signed Avril to a two-year, $15 million contract. That same year Jared Cook got $35 million, Mike Wallace got $60 million, Dashon Goldson got $41.5 million, Sam Baker got $41.5 million, Phil Loadholdt got $25 million, Glover Quin got $25 million, Jermon Bushrod got $36 million, Derek Cox got $20 million, Andy Levitre got $39 million, Ricky Jean-Francois got $22 million, LaRon Landry got $24 million, Gosder Cherilus got $34 million, Desmond Bryant got $34 million, Paul Kruger got $41 million, Danny Amendola got $31 million, Philip Wheeler got $26 million, and all these years later Ellerbe out-did him again with $35 million. True these are all for different years, but Avril may have liked a longer contract with more money and more guarantees.
In his first season with Seattle, Avril recorded eight sacks and six forced fumbles in limited snaps, helping the Seahawks win their first Super Bowl. He had 1.5 sacks and a safety in the playoffs. The next season, he had five sacks and only one forced fumble, but he was still effective at pressuring the quarterback and his injury that caused him to miss the second half of the Super Bowl is often cited as the big reason why Seattle ended up losing to the Patriots, as Tom Brady could do absolutely nothing in large part due to Avril’s speed rush in the first half.
With that, the Seahawks managed to get him on a more-than-reasonable four-year, $28.5 million contract after the season. In the last two years since, Avril has recorded 20.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, and 10 batted passes. His Pro Bowl appearance in 2016 was long overdue. Since 2010, Avril is tied for sixth in the NFL in sacks with 62.5. His 23 forced fumbles in that time ranks numero uno.
This year, he was ranked 56th in the NFL Top 100.
In his off-time, Avril enjoys donating his time, money, and effort to rebuilding homes in his native Haiti. He pledged to donate one house for every sack he recorded last season, a promise he has kept in the offseason after notching 11 of them in 2016. He participates in these charity events with current and former teammates like Marshawn Lynch, whose “#Bricks2Books” BeastMode clothing line goes to efforts to help building schools in Haiti.
Cliff Avril is a good dude, but when going up against an offensive lineman, is a bad man. He has been underrated since he was coming out of high school, was underrated in the draft, underrated in free agency, and is still underrated and overlooked on a defense that is stacked, but would not be nearly as stacked without him. Indeed, Cliff Avril knows failure ...
Because he has faced it and overcome it many times over.