Former UCLA defensive lineman is an ideal fit for the Green Bay Packers’ defensive front.
Many of us knew the Green Bay Packers would address the defensive side of the ball with the 27th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft Thursday night.
However, with so many talented defensive players still on the board near the end of the first round, the Packers could have gone in a number of directions with their first selection.
While many of the top prospects carry certain red flags, whether it be medical or character concerns, former UCLA nose tackle Kenny Clark is as rock solid as they come.
Shortly after the pick was announced Ted Thompson shared his thoughts briefly with Packers.com Larry McCarren. “We think he brings a lot to the table and he’d be a good fit with our defensive line group. He’s very articulate and excited to be a Packer.”
Not only was Clark a first-team All PAC 12 defensive lineman, but he was also a team captain and natural leader both on and off the field at UCLA, winning numerous leadership awards in college.
“I’m a tough hard-nosed player. I’m a team-first guy that’s going to put the team before my individual goals.” Clark voiced his strengths as a player earlier this spring in an interview with our site. “I’m going to try my best to be a leader on my team and earn the respect of my teammates.”
Leadership and high character aren’t the only attributes the 20-year-old prospect brings to an NFL roster, however. He’s also a tremendous athlete for a 6-foot-3, 314-pound defensive lineman and a guy that shows good burst off the line and an ability to smoothly move laterally, especially against the run.
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“He can run and he’s explosive,” said Ted Thompson in the post-draft interview. “He’s a sideline-to-sideline kind of guy.”
Clark was asked to step up his junior season and be a key playmaker on the Bruins defense after UCLA lost several key starters to injury. The result?
He played over 80 percent of defensive naps, finishing with 75 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and six sacks. Incredible production for a 3-4 nose tackle. In fact, Clark’s pass rush production was amongst the highest of any interior defensive lineman in the FBS last season.
Clark took on double teams on a regular basis and was the sole focus of the opposing offenses in a defensive front lacking playmakers after Myles Jack was lost for the season early in the year due to injury. The very fact Clark was so productive is a testament to his ability and motor on the field, which he attributes to his strong wrestling background.
“You have to have that mindset that you can’t allow your opponent to see you tired and you have to work hard and just keep attacking. Wrestling and just having that type of relentless mindset really carries over to my play on the defensive line because I never give up and I always try to play hard on every snap.”
Clark’s high motor and combination of size and athleticism make him an ideal fit in a 3-4 front. Having spent a majority of his time in college at nose tackle or three-technique defensive tackle in sub-packages, Clark has the experience to immediately carve out a role for himself on the Packers defensive line.
He also has the height, length, and athleticism to play over the tackle as a two-gapping five-technique defensive end. Clark’s versatility is where his true value is at the next level.
“I can play multiple positions and am willing to play any position on the defensive line teams want me to play. I feel I can definitely play nose guard, three-tech, and defensive end. Wherever they put me, I’m going to do my job.”
Clark’s experience at nose and end in a the Bruins’ 3-4 scheme, which runs a lot of similar concepts as Green Bay, should make for a smooth transition to the Packers defense. The Packers also have Letroy Guion on their roster who can move between the two positions as well, giving Green Bay options for various looks on the defensive line.
However, despite the versatility, explosive athleticism, and leadership qualities, what does Clark see as his best attribute as a player?
“Definitely my run stopping ability.”
Clark was a stalwart run defender for three seasons at UCLA, and in his two years as a starter, he took on double teams, plugged rushing lanes, and held the point of attack so his teammates could make plays on the ball.
His ability to two-gap will be a real asset to the Packers defense. It will go a long way in keeping their linebackers clean and off blocks, so they can flow to the ball and make plays, regardless if that is returnees Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington or another rookie drafted this weekend.
Clark is one of the better run defenders in the 2016 draft class, and the fact he can also generate pressure as an interior rusher gives him an edge over other top defensive line prospects like Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson, and Andrew Billings.
The Packers are fortunate things worked out this well for them on the first day of the draft and they found a player without reaching that fits directly with their scheme.
Plus, they also got a guy who wants to play in Green Bay, which is an underrated quality for any draft prospect.
Clark on the potential of being drafted by the Packers, “I think it would be awesome, man. I think it would just be crazy. I watched Green Bay all the time growing up . . . I’d definitely be there with open arms and ready to take everything in.”