Since the start of 2016, there are 16 players who have at least 19 sacks. At the end of that list is a three-way tie between players who all play different positions: defensive tackle Aaron Donald, linebacker Terrell Suggs, and defensive end Frank Clark. In fact, that’s not the only elite company that Clark is near or ahead of over the last two years.
Despite limited playing time, especially in 2016 when he was still behind Cliff Avril, Clark has more sacks in the last two seasons than Melvin Ingram, Geno Atkins, Julius Peppers, Carlos Dunlap, Jadeveon Clowney, Olivier Vernon, and even teammate Michael Bennett. He’s within three sacks of Cameron Wake, who is sixth in sacks over the last two seasons with 22. The players between Clark and Wake include Khalil Mack, Everson Griffen, Cam Jordan, and Yannick Ngakoue.
Of course, we don’t know yet if increased playing time will be a good thing or a bad thing for Clark. Some pass rushers excel when given more snaps and others are only useful in situational rotation, but the promising news is that Clark did put up 7.5 sacks in the 12 starts after Avril went down, including at least a piece of a sack in six of those games. Going into Week 17, Clark was 14th in pressures among all defensive ends per PFF:
They’ve been able to reach those totals because of the amount of pressure they’ve created this season. Clark is 14th among defensive ends with 54 quarterback pressures on the season while Bennett is eighth with 64.
They also noted going into that game that Clark was 8th among all 4-3 defensive ends in pressures from the right side. In the Seahawks critical Week 16 win over the Cowboys, Clark may have been the best player on the defense:
With star tackle Tyron Smith coming out of the game on the first drive, Clark took advantage of Dallas’ poor backup play and wreaked havoc in the backfield. Clark finished with six hurries and a sack and earned a 79.6 pass-rush grade. Clark was also solid in run defense, with three solo tackles all resulting in a stop.
And while offense took centerstage in Seattle’s memorable 41-38 win over the Houston Texans in Week 8, Clark quietly was named as PFF’s most productive pass rusher across the entire NFL that day. And when nothing seemed to go right in a 42-7 loss to the LA Rams, Clark did record a sack off of Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth. But it’s not always right with Clark.
Clark followed up his elite Week 13 performance (92.1 overall grade last week against the Philadelphia Eagles) with a bit of a dud against Jacksonville. Clark did earn three pressures on 22 pass-rush snaps (two hurries and a hit) but he didn’t have much of an influence beyond those few plays, as he recorded no stops and missed a tackle. Clark has now failed to record a stop in four of his last five games (he had three against the Eagles) and he’s on pace for just 17 this season after he notched 27 a year ago. Clark had a stretch in the middle of the season from Weeks 4-9 where he finished four out of five games with a grade of at least 79.0, him getting back to that level would go quite a ways as Seattle makes their playoff push.
Overall, Clark has succeeded through his first three seasons in the NFL and looks like he’ll have a very long career if he remains out of trouble. Among the players who are in their first three seasons, Clark ranks fifth in sacks since the start of 2016, behind Joey Bosa (23), Vic Beasley (20.5), Ngakoue (20), and Danielle Hunter (19.5). One strong season as the Seahawks’ starter on the edge — and now their number one defensive end with the trade of Bennett to the Eagles — could put him ahead of all of those players, and Clark has the talent to do it.
With the added incentive of an inevitable payday in 2019, anything is possible. Good and bad.