Frank Clark could’ve been a first round pick. The character flags and his dismissal from Michigan made him available to the Seahawks at the end of the second round.
Let’s look at how he compares to the first pass rusher taken in the draft — Dante Fowler Jr (#3 overall).
Clark’s a shade under 6-3, he’s 271lbs and ran a 4.64. Fowler Jr is 10lbs lighter and ran a 4.60 at the combine. Clark beat Fowler Jr in the vertical (38.5 vs 32.5 inches), broad (118 vs 112 inches), three cone (7.08 vs 7.40), short shuttle (4.05 vs 4.32) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.22 vs 11.89).
They’re virtually the same height but Clark’s arms are an inch longer at 34.5 inches.
The most important measurable might be the 10-yard split. Clark ran a 1.58 while Fowler Jr managed a 1.59. Anything under 1.60 is considered excellent.
Statistically Fowler Jr managed 15 TFL’s in 2014 compared to Clark’s 13.5 — although he played two more games due to Clark’s dismissal.
PFF ranked Clark as the third most productive pass rusher in college football last season and the sixth best versus the run. Fowler Jr came in at #8 in terms of pass rush and wasn’t in the top-20 for run defense.
Is it fair to contemplate how much better Dante Fowler Jr actually is — the #3 overall pick? It makes you wonder how high Clark would’ve been drafted without the red flags. That’s not to underplay Fowler Jr’s tape (which is excellent). He showed he could rush from any spot (D-end, inside, linebacker). He’s much more nimble working in space and there are times where he just sidesteps blockers and it’s over. Fowler Jr has cat-like agility and that is the one big separating factor.
The thing is, Clark’s tape isn’t half bad either.
Fowler Jr was the best defensive player in the draft (Leonard Williams was a little overrated, but that’s another story). Clark isn’t a million miles away. It sounds absurd because it hasn’t been talked about. With a clean off the field record it’s almost certain Clark would’ve been one of the biggest risers. He certainly wouldn’t have been available for the Seahawks.
Whether this team should’ve capitalised on that situation is a debate that will dominate Seattle sports media this week.
Cliff Avril ran a 1.50 split at 253lbs. Bruce Irvin ran a 1.55 split at 245lbs. Clark is nearly 20lbs heavier than Avril and 26lbs heavier than Irvin. He’s in the same ball-park for short-range quickness.
We’re talking about an exceptional physical specimen with a rare combination of length, speed and explosion.
So we’ve established he’s a spectacular athlete. What about his play?
Clark is a splash play specialist. A splash play is recorded any time a pass rusher negatively impacts a pass attempt. That could be a sack, knocking down the ball at the LOS, tipping a pass or hitting a QB while he’s throwing the ball.
Not all of these plays show up in the stat column. There’s a lot of focus on sacks in particular — as if it’s the greatest determining factor in how effective a player is.
In many cases it’s a red herring.
Let’s say a defensive end explodes off the snap and gets into the backfield, forcing the quarterback to move off the spot. He tries to scramble and runs straight into the arms of a defensive tackle who records the sack. The D-end makes the play but gets none of the credit.
Clark only recorded 4.5 sacks in ten games for Michigan in 2014. That doesn’t even begin to tell the story of his production. He added 13.5 TFL’s, broke up two passes, averaged 4.2 tackles a game and impacted many more snaps.
His pursuit is phenomenal and virtually unmatched in the 2015 draft class. He works down the line better than any other pass rusher, stringing out run plays and often making tackles by the sideline. He doesn’t give up, the motor never stops. If he doesn’t win initially in a 1v1 battle he keeps going, works off the block and largely holds position at the very least. These are all valuable traits when it comes to run defense. Even if he doesn’t end up being a sack artist — he’ll always hold major value for his range and pursuit against the run. He’s a tough guy to move around.
In a play against Akron he’s double teamed off the edge giving the defensive tackle a 1v1 situation up the middle. It allowed the DT to get the QB off his spot and scramble to his left. Clark disengages and chases the QB down for no gain by the far sideline.
In the same game he stunts inside and explodes through the middle to absolutely hammer the quarterback as he throws (forcing an incompletion). The quarterback limped off to the sideline.
You see everything you look for in an accomplished pass rusher too. Too many college players rely on speed to dominate overmatched offensive linemen. When they get to the next level and they take on superior blockers they are one-dimensional and become ineffective or resort to specialist roles. Clark is capable of taking on a blocker, disengaging with heavy hands and exploding into the backfield. He’s willing to mix things up — stunting inside, using the spin move. He’ll draw you in from different angles. He’s adept at converting speed to power and yet you still see the two fundamental plays — the speed rush to the edge and the bull rush.
Look at the video below and fast forward to 0:28:
Clark engages the tackle and drives him into the backfield. At that point he’s won the battle, it’s all about how quick he can get to the QB. He eventually disengages to make the sack. This is the type of play you see in the NFL all the time. At the next level you rarely beat a tackle with pure speed the same way you do against the college tackles. You have to battle, you have to work. Clark is pro-ready in that regard.
Fast forward to 1:37 in the same video. Clark uses one arm to keep the tackle off his frame (length crucial here) and just rides him into the quarterback. It takes a little while to get the QB down but the end result is a 12-13 yard loss. Speed, power, finish.
“Frank Clark’s been outstanding tonight” yells the commentator after the play.
If you need evidence he can be a quick-twitch speed rusher, take a look at 0:52 below:
He glides beyond the right tackle, bending the arc and exploding. The quarterback does well to make a quick throw — but this doesn’t take anything away from Clark’s play.
Look at the same video at 1:35. Clark makes a fantastic break off the snap — he’s a split-second ahead of every other lineman. He’s straight into the backfield leaving the right tackle in his stance. If you freeze the frame at 1:38 you see a quarterback about to be slammed for a big sack. He senses the pressure and tries to escape. On another day he runs straight into a crowded LOS and probably straight into a defensive tackle. A nice double team on the DT means he can scramble up the middle for a short gain before Clark brings him down.
This is a splash play. The quarterback is trying to throw the ball downfield but can’t because Clark’s in the backfield. Just because he avoids a big loss and makes a couple of yards on the play — it’s still a win for Clark.
Look at 1:58. He engages the left tackle four yards behind the LOS. Why? The tackle knows he has to set a deep base against this guy. Clark shrugs him off and tackles the running back for a one-yard gain. It’s a brilliant play.
And that brings us to the Northwestern game. I broke it down in March so rather than repeat myself you can check it out here. Here’s one noticeable line though:
He looks like a second round talent with an UDFA character flag. If you trust him — or if you can make yourself believe you can trust him — you’re going to get a guy who can play quickly, will excel against the run and make plays even as a rookie.
He shoots gaps better than possibly any other defensive end in this class. He’s certainly among the top group. This kind of play flashes up quite a lot:
Lower body explosion and speed isn’t defined solely by a 40-yard run in a straight line. Here’s the 1.58 split and the 38.5 inch vertical showing up on tape.
Without the character concerns, there’s every chance Clark would’ve built momentum at the combine and ended up going in the first round.
Michael Bennett played 763 snaps in the 2014 season. He was always going to have a bigger role in his second season since returning to Seattle, but it’s still too many. Clark can realistically spell both Bennett and Avril. He’s somewhere between the two players in terms of speed, power and the ability to work along the line. There’s even some evidence he can play in space — he dropped on the odd occasion for Michigan and didn’t look out of place.
Seattle retained most of a defense that remained #1 in the NFL for points and yardage last season. The one player of significance they lost — Byron Maxwell — they replaced with their most expensive veteran acquisition in the open market (Cary Williams). Now they’ve acquired an explosive pass rusher to replace two-sack O’Brien Schofield.
If Jordan Hill makes a full recovery, if Cassius Marsh can force his way into the rotation, if Brandon Mebane can reach his 2014 form and if Ahtyba Rubin helps solidify the middle — you could be looking at comparable depth to the 2013 line.
Tomorrow — a look at Tyler Lockett.