So far in the 2016 NFL season, Seahawks Grades has mostly looked at the offensive line performance due to their struggles they’ve had all year. We’ve taken a look at a few defensive players, most recently Jeremy Lane against the Packers, and today we’re going back to the defensive side of the ball. You’re in for a treat with this one.
We all know Frank Clark was a 2015 second round pick surrounded in controversy. We aren’t going to get into any of that here, but without the off-field issues, he was a potential top 15 draft pick. He didn’t stuff the stat sheet at Michigan, but he impacted plays and was a phenomenal athlete. Check out his SPARQ profile provided by Zach Whitman.
- Ranked as the 5th 4-3 DE in SPARQ
- 4.64 second 40 yard dash
- Insane 4.05 second short shuttle
- 38.5” vertical
- 34-3/8” vines for arms
Take a look at Clark’s NFL draft profile. Here are what the major strengths and weaknesses that scouts said about Clark prior to the draft. He was projected as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 defensive end.
Downhill defensive end who can play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Has the power to control the edge and is able to disengage and finish as a tackler. Fires out of stance with good burst up field as pass rusher. Keeps pad level low and converts speed to power. Gets shoulders turned when he rounds corner as pass rusher, gaining leverage advantage.
Effort rusher who relies on motor and power over talent. Lacks fluidity and natural transition from move to move as pass rusher. Doesn't gain much ground with spin-move counter, often twisting in place. Lacks subtlety of movement or footwork necessary to execute consistent inside move at the next level. Marginal change-of-direction talent.
Well Clark’s strengths are still strengths, and he has improved immensely on his weaknesses. His effort and motor paired with his athleticism is what helps him beat offensive lineman. He still isn’t the most fluid, but at roughly 265 pounds, that’s not easy. He has improved his spin move but it still needs work but that inside move...man that inside move...you’ll see it. As for change of direction, his ability to change direction has got him a few sacks this year.
Oh yeah, he was projected as a stand up 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE? Well I guess nobody thought he’d ever be lined up as a defensive tackle or even at nose tackle! Yes you read that right, nose tackle. You’ll see some of that later.
For now let’s take a look at his play chart against the Detroit Lions. He played 73% of all defensive snaps, mostly due because Detroit was throwing the ball a lot, however, he was in on quite a few run plays as well.
Now let’s have some fun....
Play 5: Lions false start
Matthew Stafford was probably glad that this play was blown dead, as Clark had him dead in his sights (and was even held a bit) and probably would have been a sack. Clark has a great outside/inside move setting up the tackle to get a line to the quarterback. The great thing about it, is that there is very little wasted motion.
Play 8: Pass incomplete to Eric Ebron
We all know Michael Bennett gets great jumps off the snap and that’s because he has an uncanny ability to
be offsides time the snap count. Well Clark gets off the ball quick due to his insane athleticism, not just from timing the snap. He’s routinely the first one off the line. Here you can see just how crazy his get off is.
His burst off the line gets him almost immediate pressure through the line which forces the quarterback off his spot and results in an incompletion. Remember, a great pass rush is not just about sacks, it’s about effecting the quarterback.
Play 13: Stafford scramble for 2 yards
Here Clark is lined up as the left defensive tackle and again has a great jump at the snap. He generates push and disengages, almost gets to the quarterback and forces him to scramble. Collapsing the pocket from the interior is what the Hawks have been missing.
Play 15: Pass short middle to Anquan Boldin for 16 yards
Here Clark converts speed to power and bull rushes the left tackle and pushes him right back to the quarterback, forcing him off his spot. Unfortunately there isn’t pressure from anywhere else and Boldin is wide open for an easy throw.
Play 18: Stafford sacked by Cliff Avril for -6 yards
Cliff Avril can thank Clark for the sack here. On this play Clark lines up as the right defensive tackle, but on the opposite side of the center, overloading the left side. So now on the left side the Hawks are rushing Clark, Michael Bennett and Avril. Good luck to any line trying to block that combo.
Again Clark has an insane jump off the snap and collapses the pocket, forcing the quarterback into Avril’s arms, all while doing this from lining up over the center!
Play 33: Pass incomplete to Boldin
This is an awesome play call by Kris Richard. Linebacker blitz by Bobby Wagner, but not before both Clark and Bennett slant inside and carrying the offensive lineman with them opening up a huge lane for Wagner to come through and lay the wood on Stafford.
Play 37: Stafford sacked for -10 yards by Avril/Clark
This play sums up Clarks day and how dominating he was. He again converts speed to power, gets leverage and uses his length and bull rushes the left tackle Taylor Decker (first round draft pick) and just straight knocks him on his ass and runs him over! We’ve seen some bad offensive line play, and Decker is a pretty good left tackle. How badly Clark dominates him here is just amazing.
During the game last Saturday, it felt like too many times the pass rush wasn’t effecting Matthew Stafford, but upon further review, they were effecting him a lot. Sacks don’t always tell the story. Stafford has sneaky athleticism and navigates the pocket well, but Frank Clark and friends moved him off his spot a lot and made him uncomfortable.
Overall, Clark had a Field Gulls Grade of 63% while having a 68% success rate. At first this seems like the score doesn’t match the tape and is lower than it should be. Take into consideration the offensive line grades we’ve seen so far. Scores in the 60s were OK, decent performances, and anything over 70 was a really good performance. Well if we’re expecting good offensive line performances in the 70s, wouldn’t that make the corresponding defensive line performance in the 30s?
So we need to consider that a defensive lineman isn’t going to have as much success as an offensive lineman, especially when we don’t have a benchmark or average of defensive line performances to go against. We’ll dive deeper into this in the offseason when we review more game tape.
- Michael Bennett has played eight years in the NFL and he has only had one 10 sack season (last year). Clark already has his first 10 sack season in his second year. John Schneider better start saving his money because as Clark continues to develop, he’s only going to get better, and he’s going to get paid. One more ten plus sack season next year and he’s going to be in-line for a big contract extension following the 2017 season, and I mean big.
- The only knock on Clark is in run support. He wasn’t bad, but several times he had trouble disengaging, but for the most part he’s greatly improved in run support since his rookie season. He doesn’t get blown off the ball and isn’t a liability to hold the edge.
- NASCAR is fun! Kris Richard knows how to use his pass rushers. Several times the defense lined up in a 3-4 alignment with Clark as the nose tackle, Bennett and Avril as the defensive ends. He’d often blitz in this formation, but the advantage here is using Clark’s quickness against the slower interior lineman. Clark uses his burst off the snap to get in between the center and guard and is able to get skinny and create immediate penetration, which causes havoc in the backfield. They would also line up in a 4-3 with Bennett and Clark as the defensive tackles and overload one side. The Hawks still need a pass rushing defensive tackle in the mold of Clinton McDonald from 2013 or Jordan Hill in 2014, but between Clark and Bennett they are getting a lot done when rushing from the inside.
- One thing I’ve noticed about Clarks pass rush, especially inside, a lot of time he gets in awkward positions especially when he’s trying to knife through and turns his shoulders. He does a great job of keeping his balance and staying on his feet, where a lot of guys probably wouldn’t. It’s not just his athleticism and quickness that helps here, but his strength to keep going and staying on his feet.
How about a little sack celebration?