I have never been a scout or a NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, Click Here.
Kenny Clark, DE, UCLA - 6'3, 314 - Junior - #97
If there is one thing the 2016 draft has plenty of it would be the multitude of top notch defensive tackles. Some are perfect for 3-4, a few look capable of the coveted 3-technique, but most seem that stout 4-3 defensive tackle lined up right on the shoulder of the center as the 1-technique. His job is not necessarily to make plays on his own very often, but rather to stand his ground, take on the constant double teams, and keep his linebackers clean of having to deal with too many offensive linemen. It is not a glamour position by any means, but if you look at the success of the UCLA linebackers in the last few years (Erik Kendricks, Myles Jack) you would have to admit that he has done his job wonderfully of allowing those run-and-hit linebackers to actually run-and-hit.
By now, you know that the Cowboys have a tradition of not valuing this spot very highly. There is the story of Rod Marinelli actually debating against his own front office in favor of NOT taking Sharrif Floyd because the coach thought he was just a 1-technique (the Vikings obviously disagreed with that thought) and he did not believe 1-techniques belong in Round 1. That tells you that they believe they can find guys to do this job without allocating top resources (high picks, high salaries) and they have filled the spot for three seasons under Marinelli in the new scheme with Nick Hayden who has started 47 of 48 games at this spot for a grand total of about $2 million dollars. That is without question the cheapest spot on the field for the Cowboys to fill over the last three seasons at the cost of $45,000 a game. You could fill that position for 25 seasons for the cost of one year of Tony Romo.
But, sometimes you get what you pay for. Hayden has been fine and he is now a free agent again, but the gifts Kenny Clark has (and many others at this spot in the '16 Draft) make us wonder how much better a premium prospect could improve things in the front seven if the Cowboys allocated a high second-rounder to fill this spot. Clark has been a real stout player for UCLA for 3 seasons after a background in wrestling (that is great for DT leverage techniques) and put on a solid show at the combine to showcase his outstanding strength. At 20 years old, he appears to be the type of guy worth investing in to bring that defensive line to the next level.
What I liked: He is as stout as they come where he just absolutely overpowers any interior lineman he is matched up against. This automatically turns into the situation where he is constantly double-teamed on any run play because the opponent quickly realizes that this is their only chance to move the pile even a bit. He also walks guys routinely right back into the ball carrier or the quarterback and causes a play to be stopped or re-routed altogether. He is very strong and also plays with a great low level that gives him a leverage advantage at every turn. He will keep your linebackers clean. He can hold a blocker off with 1-arm and absolutely control his man and lead him as he wishes. He puts guys on roller skates and will not get moved backwards. You never see him on the ground and you really never see him blown backwards. He does read plays pretty well for a DT and can sniff out ideas from the offense. He also will occasionally collapse the pocket from the front, allowing edge rushers a tremendous advantage. He disengages from blockers well.
What I did not like:With this stoutness comes the assumed idea that he doesn't move real well. I wouldn't say it is below average, but it also isn't really above average in terms of moving laterally or chasing down plays. He pretty much is a roadblock in the middle of the field but is not getting too far outside the hash marks very often. He doesn't appear to have many pass rush ideas other than mauling and fork-lifting the center backwards. That works well at time, but at the NFL level, he will need to develop more than that if he wishes to make plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage. You also wonder about his usage as UCLA left him out there for all the plays and if he worked as more of a rotation he would have a slightly more active level.
Summary and potential fit with the Cowboys: We have certainly seen many talented 1-techniques over the years fall past the Cowboys as they convince themselves that this spot is not worth investment. It would be easier to agree with them if A) the rest of the league thought the same way and B) if their defensive line appeared top notch either way. However, in the case of the Cowboys front, since the scheme change, it has sure felt like they could use upgrades at several spots including this one. The fact that the draft is ripe with this type of player suggests that in the second or third round, they might find a significant upgrade from what they have used there for three years.
Clark is a heck of a player and demonstrates the traits you are looking for. He also has a very interesting backstory that suggests he has a motivation level that is appealing as well. I like him quite a bit and wonder if he would still be available at No. 34. If he is, this would be a very attractive option.