The Green Bay Packers needed to come out of the 2016 NFL draft with a legitimate nose tackle for their 3-4 defense and with the selection of UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark in the first round, they got one.
Not all defensive lineman are built to play nose tackle in the 3-4 defense. But Clark (6-3, 310) is the ideal fit size wise and his skill set gives him an even better chance to succeed in Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme.
Last season, even with B.J. Raji, the Packers ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in run defense. And with Raji gone to retirement, Green Bay faced the prospect of being even weaker against the run, until the Packers selected Clark, who finished fifth in Pro Football Focus‘ run defense rankings for his position.
In 2015, Clark’s junior season for the Bruins, he was extremely productive, finishing the season with 73 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks — tremendous numbers for an interior defensive lineman. He also had five pass deflections, which tells you a little something about his athletic ability, which you can also see in the video below:
Clark may not be the classic 3-4 NT — think Vince Wilfork — he’s a little lighter and he moves better, but for what the Packers want to do, he’s perfect. Green Bay only plays in the base 3-4 about 30 percent of the time anyways, so often times, Clark will find himself in a role similar to that of a 3-technique.
With Clark, Letroy Guion and Mike Pennel (once he has served his four-game suspension), the Packers now have three athletic, stout, big men up front that can alternate between nose and end in the 3-4. Then with Mike Daniels at the other end spot, along with Josh Boyd and Christian Ringo, Green Bay should have enough depth.
Yet picking Clark is about much more than depth — it’s about finding the long-term solution to the middle of the defensive line. Regardless of whether or not Raji came back this season, he was on the downside of his career. It was time for some new blood at the position and with Clark, Green Bay has that.
Of course, many pundits were critical of the pick because Clark is not a pass-rusher. Well, I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment. Five sacks is an impressive number for a defensive tackle and with 44 percent of his pressures coming off the bull rush, it’s safe to say Clark is more than capable of collapsing the pocket on a regular basis.
The Packers already have Daniels, one the best interior rushers in the league, along with Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Nick Perry on the outside, so Clark doesn’t need to be a sack master, he just needs to get some push on the inside and limit the QB’s ability to step up in the pocket.
Clark is more than capable of doing that right away. He’s a disruptive player and throughout his career he spent plenty of time in the opponents backfield, which is something he will continue to do in Green Bay, not only against the run, but versus pass as well.
Whether or not Clark starts this year remains to be seen, but as far as the pick goes — in terms of nose tackles, I don’t think the Packers could have done any better in the 2016 NFL draft than they did with Clark.