The Bears pass rush could certainly use a boost. The fact that they are managing to get semi-consistent pressure on opponents with the defensive lineman they have is a testament to the effectiveness of the new defensive scheme and coaching. That combination can only take a team so far. In the end you need talent to win football games in the NFL and if that talent helps a team control the line of scrimmage, their chances to win get better right away.
Kenny Clark, Defensive Tackle, UCLA
For the second straight year a very talented junior class defensive tackle from Southern California has declared for the NFL Draft. Bears fans will remember with a sweet bit of agony, missing out on last year's option (Leonard Williams) by a single choice. The Jets selected Williams right before the Bears picked and he has gone on to have a very solid rookie season for New York. I was hoping Clark would declare for this year's draft and he did so this week. Due to the fact that my last target for a defensive tackle write-up has had a bit of a fall from grace since that time, I thought profiling Kenny would be a timely choice.
Clark has had consistent impact in the PAC 12 this year. Despite being overshadowed by some bigger names at the DT position nationwide, he boasts a well-rounded game and won't be unfamiliar to draft evaluators once they go back and do their extra film work (now that he has officially declared for the draft). I would be surprised if Clark's stock does not spike when scouts give his game tape a second look. If he doesn't earn the "riser" label I would be disappointed.
As a lineman Clark has a lot of things going for him. He has an impressive frame (6'3", 310 pounds), good strength, comes from a wrestling background in high school and has improved every year in college. He made some impact plays as a true freshman, got selected for the second team All-Pac-12 as a sophomore and made the first team All-Pac-12 this year. He was the only Bruin to earn that honor this season, and after watching UCLA's games on tape I can understand why. There is some talent on the UCLA defense (notably linebacker Myles Jack), but Clark is the best defender on the team and he does not have a ton of help. He's a player who I think might really shine when surrounded by better talent at the pro level.
One of the most common errors for big young players on both sides of the trenches (offense and defense) is to play without a good "base". Taller players want to stand up off the snap and they lose leverage when they do. Clark has had good coaching in this area that he obviously listened to, because he plays with an excellent, low base. Kenny also has great natural balance and the combination puts him in an effective position to make plays and win the leverage battle that occurs on every play. From that foundation he uses his long and powerful arms to control his blocker and keep his eyes on the ball. Watching him toss around 300 pounds guys, who are bent on trying to control where he goes, is a common and impressive sight.
Clark began his career as very solid run defender in the middle of the defensive line; a "plugger" in scouting terms. While his position on the field has remained the same his skillset has not. Kenny has slowly but surely added an array of pass rushing skills to his formidable run defense. His hand use has gotten better every year and he uses more combination moves to get free than many players who have 1 or 2 more seasons of college experience. His bull rush is very impressive, especially if he gets a bit of a head start by lining up in a 2-point stance 1 yard off the ball. That little bit of momentum paired with his tremendous power and leverage make him into a force that is very difficult to anchor against. Clark uses this varied arsenal of skills to collapse the pocket and force quarterbacks to make throws they don't really want to. That leads to incompletions and (in a perfect world) interceptions.
Like any young and improving player Clark is a work in progress. He certainly has some deficiencies in his game and will have to continue to round out both his frame and his toolbox of techniques to achieve continued success on the NFL level. The most notable holes in his game include:
- Does not possess tremendous speed - is good inside the tackle box but will not range to the sidelines to make plays
- Can still be locked up one-on-one when he stops working to win the hand fighting battle
- Needs to go hard to the whistle even if the play has moved away from him, as the cutback runs often return to an area where he can make a play
- Focus on lateral agility training will serve him well - saw more than a few plays where he was literally one step away from making an impact tackle
- Has very long arms and needs to get them up into the passing lane consistently, if he does he will have a ton of passes batted down
Although Clark spent 3 years anchoring the middle of the Bruin's defense I think he could make an almost seamless transition to playing 5-technique in an NFL 3-4 defense. He has the size, strength, length and edge-setting ability the role requires in spades. He flashes an improving pass rush and extremely quick play recognition skills. His youth and power would be excellent assets next to a player like Eddie Goldman and give the Bears a young and formidable front line of defense for years to come.