Although Rutgers is only three practices into Fall camp, some players are already emerging as huge pieces in the team. One of those players is strongside linebacker Najee Clayton.
Clayton is a true sophomore from Paramus Catholic who played on special teams in 2015 and transitioned from safety to linebacker when Chris Ash became head coach. In Ash’s presser after practice yesterday, he said that Clayton was the most game-ready linebacker on the roster. That is very impressive considering he is joined by Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts who both had significant playing time at linebacker last year.
This Spring Clayton had to learn a completely new position and drastically change his body. He bulked up from 205 pounds last year to around 228 pounds. Ash said he is “practicing into shape” and actually looks like a linebacker.
He has dedicated himself to becoming a student of the game as well, tirelessly studying tape of guys like 1st-round pick Darron Lee to better understand his new hybrid position. Clayton also has the luxury of being coached by Chris Ash, the man who perfected the hybrid linebacker position.
Additionally, if you doubted Clayton’s ability to tackle and make big hits, check out this clip of him destroying Jarrett Guarantano in high school:
With the defensive line being the strength of the team and the secondary having experience, Clayton will be key in proving that the linebackers aren’t a weakness of this team.
With many team switching to spread offenses, Clayton’s position is becoming more common. He will have to cover speedy slot receivers and h-backs while also being responsible for a 6-6 tight end. If teams try to stretch the field against Rutgers, he will be key in preventing that. However, against a traditional team like Michigan State, he is still big enough to come up and make solid and reliable tackles.
Clayton will be a full-time starter for at least two more years and his potential is limitless. I think he can become an All-B1G linebacker and be a better linebacker than his high school teammate Jabrill Peppers.