The Buffalo Bills’ defense was inconsistent throughout the 2015 season as they transitioned to Rex Ryan’s hybrid 3-4 defensive scheme. So, going into the offseason and most notably the 2016 NFL Draft, it’s likely that the team will look to acquire defenders that fit the archetypes for the positions needed for Ryan’s system to thrive. Today, we’ll take a look at UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark.
Kenny Clark was named First-Team All Pac-12 in 2015 after recording 75 tackles, 11 for a loss, six sacks and five pass breakups, while being credited with 18 quarterback pressures, 6.5 “stuffs” and 43 run disruptions by RealFootballNetwork. The 20-year old defensive tackle plays with fantastic strength and a low center of gravity that allow him to routinely overwhelm opposing offensive linemen with his hand usage and ability to sink his hips and anchor against the run. In UCLA’s defense, Clark primarily aligned as a shaded nose tackle where he would often be two-gapping at the point of attack.
Kenny Clark Size/Athletic Ability
At the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, Kenny Clark measured in at 6’3” and 314 pounds with less-than-ideal length (32 1/8” arms) and athletic ability, posting a 4.62 20-yard shuttle, a 7.73 second three cone and a 28.5” vertical leap to go along with an 8’6” broad jump. He did put up 29 bench press reps of 225 pounds, which was expected from the former wrestler.
Kenny Clark has a great first step off the snap and will explode into offensive linemen’s pads, driving his legs with short, choppy steps to move them off the line of scrimmage in both the run and passing game. He gets up the field in a hurry, but doesn’t always move laterally down the line of scrimmage as quickly as you’d like.
Kenny Clark Run Support
Kenny Clark is one of the most dominant run defenders in the nation, showing great power at the point of attack and the core strength to anchor against offensive linemen in the run game with the hand technique and arm explosion to stand them up and control the leverage.
In the following clip, Kenny Clark sinks his hips against a double team without surrendering any ground. This forces the running back to cut back to the right, where a swarm of UCLA defenders are swarming.
Here, Clark stands up the opposing lineman at the snap. While engaged with the block, Clark has the awareness to peek into the backfield to see which gap to attack. He uses a rip move, dragging the lineman to the turf before wrapping up the running back for a short gain.
Kenny Clark is such a force against the run because he understands how to maintain a low pad level and be quick with his hands in order to mitigate his lack of length. Clark is so quick off the snap that he’s able to get his hands inside the pads of a blocker, stay low and keep his feet moving to ultimately win the leverage battle and control the lineman before they can adjust.
As a two-gapping defensive lineman, Kenny Clark must first maintain the line of scrimmage—often against multiple blockers—but also have the instincts to defend the gap on either side of him. In the run game, Clark will shoot his arms out to overpower the lineman backwards while creating distance between them, before looking around him and getting off the block to make a play.
There’s a quickness to Kenny Clark’s game that complements his power as well. Once he gets into the pads of his opponent, Clark will work to squeeze through the gap, getting low to penetrate the backfield. In the following play, Nebraska is at UCLA’s two-yard line. At the snap, Kenny Clark stands up the center before using his arm to get under the block and into the backfield, before bringing down the running back at the one-yard line for a stuff.
When Kenny Clark doesn’t maintain that low pad level, bad things happen, as you can see in the next play. Lined up as a two-technique over the right guard, Clark gets too upright when the ball is snapped. The guard pulls to “trap” while the center is able to reach block Clark. The two are able to drive him backwards off the ball, because Clark is playing too tall and can’t sink his hips.
There’s also times when Clark will get reckless, relying on his sheer strength and power over his technique. In the next play against Cal, he lunges off the ball with his head down off the snap. However, Cal’s lineman is pulling to the right, so he stumbles forward right into an oncoming blocker, who tosses him to the ground with ease.
Kenny Clark Pass Rush
While dominant against the run, Kenny Clark has a lot of room to improve as a pass rusher. In 2014 as a sophomore, he didn’t record a single sack in 13 games as a starter. In 2015, he racked up six sacks, but generated just 18 quarterback pressures in 867 total defensive snaps.
Kenny Clark is powerful and can bull-rush opposing linemen with the same technique he does as a run defender, but he struggles to disengage from his man, re-direct his momentum and bring down the quarterback. Often times, he’ll literally drive his man into the quarterback’s lap, just mauling the lineman backwards as a way to bring him down.
Here, Clark shows off his bull-rush and is able to stick an arm out at the last second to sack the passer, the only sack I saw in which he used his hands to bring the quarterback down.
When his momentum up the field is stalled by opposing linemen, Clark will look to see into the backfield. He does this in the next play against Stanford and is able to jump and bat down the pass while engaged with two blockers. (Clark is the left defensive tackle here, not where the arrow is pointed.)
Here, Kenny Clark bull-rushes the guard into the opposing quarterback’s face, forcing an errant throw that’s intercepted.
As impressive as this sheer power is, Kenny Clark needs to learn how to shoot gaps, as well as shedding blocks when working up-field. We saw his rip move in the run game, but he needs to play more intelligently and controlled in order to be more effective. Right now, he’s disrupting opposing offenses—which is fantastic—but in order to be a truly great defensive lineman, he needs to learn how to get off his man.
Potential Fit with Buffalo Bills
Kenny Clark would be an ideal fit for Rex Ryan’s hybrid defensive scheme that features various fronts and looks for the offense. Clark is versatile and possesses the core strength and power to play as a two-gapping nose tackle or five-technique defensive end in 3-4 looks, while having the quickness and explosion to play as a one-gap three-technique in 4-3 fronts. Clark is young and still developing as a player, but his power, initial burst and hand usage is already refined enough to have an immediate impact. With good coaching, Kenny Clark has a high ceiling for growth and should definitely be on the radar of Buffalo Bills fans looking at defensive linemen in the 2016 NFL Draft.
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