NFC South top 25: No. 24

We continue our series of my projected top 25 players in the NFC South for the 2012 season with No. 24:

Adrian Clayborn, defensive end, Tampa Bay

What he did in 2011: Clayborn was one of the very few bright spots in Tampa Bay last season. As a rookie, he claimed a starting spot immediately and picked things up very quickly. He played the run well right from the start and got better as a pass-rusher as the season went on. Clayborn finished his first NFL season with 7.5 sacks, but 4.5 of those came in the final seven games. Clayborn also forced three fumbles and finished the season with 42 tackles.

Why he’s No. 24 in 2012: Clayborn should only continue to get better and could quickly become the NFC South’s best all-around defensive end. Tampa Bay didn’t lead often last season, so it wasn’t like Clayborn had a lot of sack opportunities and was falling into them. He’s had an entire offseason program for the first time in his career. With a new coaching staff comes a new defense. But Clayborn’s job isn’t changing that dramatically. He’s supposed to make things happen at the line of scrimmage and behind it. Clayborn could be helped greatly if defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price are able to stay healthy and generate a pass rush from the interior.