Most training camps, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a nearly 6’6” wide receiver with ball skills to make Green Bay’s final roster - especially with the Packers’ knack for finding gems in the undrafted free agent pool like the lengthy Geronimo Allison last season.
But with a crowded young receiving corps in 2017, the Packers face a tough decision with how to handle Michael Clark.
A rookie from Marshall, Clark has been among the most impressive undrafted players this training camp, including the newly drafted receivers. He is a former basketball player who transferred from St. Francis (Pa.) to Marshall and played just one year of college football after sitting out his transfer season. Yes, Clark is extremely raw in the football realm and lacks the consistency you look for at the position at this point in his career, but his basketball skills make him an exciting prospect.
Anytime there is a player with Clark’s size, 4.53 speed, and a 33” vertical leap, an evaluator’s mouth will start to drool (here is his college highlight reel). While Clark has a longer way to go in learning the position than Allison did, he has shown rapid progression in translating those unique attributes to on-field production. Green Bay simply hasn’t had a player like him, whose body at first glance draws comparisons to a skinny tight end.
Perhaps the closest resemblances the Packers have had to Clark from a sheer size-speed perspective are Ruvell Martin and Tori Gurley, receivers measuring in at 6’4” with speed in the 4.5 to 4.6 range. In Clark’s favor, both Martin and Gurley landed on the practice squads with Green Bay, the latter earning his spot after a solid training camp performance.
With Green Bay’s receiver corps consisting of three relative locks for the 53-man roster (Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb), and a slew of returners and draft picks the team is still trying to gauge (Allison, Trevor Davis, Jeff Janis, Max McCaffrey, DeAngelo Yancey, and Malachi Dupre), it’s hard to see the unpolished Clark earning an initial roster spot. However, Green Bay is no stranger to injuries at that position and it is more than plausible that a scout team player could see action on Sundays in the fall.
That means the Packers would have to take the risk of stashing Clark on the practice squad and losing him to another team, but those concerns have been unfounded in the past — Allison being the most recent example. If Clark sticks, Green Bay could see yet another wide receiver, much like Allison and Jarrett Boykin, who becomes an X-factor late in the season. As was learned with Allison, if you can catch the eye of Aaron Rodgers and develop chemistry with him, you have a chance of sticking with the team. Clark has seemingly done a bit of both already.
“You know, I've enjoyed having him in here. I didn't really know what to expect because he was out the entire spring with an injury, but he's come back and made a couple plays...He needs to be more consistent. He's figuring it out, though. He's a basketball player who is trying to figure out route running and spacing, the timing and being sudden. But he has those ‘Wow!’ moments in practice. I was hoping to get him out there on the look team a little more to throw him some more jump balls.”
Best photo of last night .. Aaron Rodgers hugging his future all pro receiver Michael Clark pic.twitter.com/36DJCNRbX8— Langley (@BLangley401) August 11, 2017
Unlike the developmental players who have come before him, Clark gives Green Bay a weapon it doesn’t have in regards to those jump balls. He has been high-pointing them with more regularity during practice and displaying his size advantage over the cornerbacks on the roster. Although it’s the preseason and he was matched up against a backup corner, Clark’s touchdown catch against the Philadelphia Eagles was an eye-popper of what the future could hold on fade patterns in the red zone.
Taysom Hill trouve Michael Clark pour un TD pic.twitter.com/iMOea51jDI— NFL France (@FirstDownFR) August 11, 2017
While the Packers sit some starters in preseason and Dupre, who praised his competitor, nurses a concussion, Clark has an opportunity to gain repetitions with the first and second units and catch passes directly from Rodgers. It is to Clark’s advantage that Green Bay is searching for vertical threats, as well as depth on the outside.
Like Allison in 2016, Clark may not be on the active roster in week one but is an important practice squad candidate. The Packers, and Clark himself, would surely relish the extra time to develop his craft. But as injuries come up, watch for Clark’s name to re-appear during the regular season and be something special when it matters late in the playoff push.
In the meantime, imagine a Rodgers Hail Mary with Michael Clark in the fold.