It’s not a glamorous job, but someone’s got to do it.
For the Green Bay Packers, Kenny Clark’s job is to essentially swallow up blockers on the line of scrimmage and open up holes for the players behind to make the big plays. When you watch a Packers linebacker stand proudly with his arms crossed after a sack or performing a war-cry after a tackle for loss, it’s likely that they’re there because of the grunt work Clark has done in the trenches.
There are few players who are able to dominate the line of scrimmage like Clark can, and hardly any defensive tackle can get off the snap with as much quickness as he does. During the third week of this preseason, Kenny Clark joined Josh Jackson on Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week with a 95.7 grade. His PFF grade for the entirety of 2017 rounded out at 87.9, good for 13th at the position.
Oren Burks has been flying around the field this preseason, but take a look at who opens up the gap for this TFL:
Oren Burks is going to have a bunch of TFLs playing behind Kenny Clark. pic.twitter.com/K0p9WFFMXa— Zach Kruse (@zachkruse2) August 18, 2018
Clark takes on the double team, allowing Burks to burst through untouched. He helped Blake Martinez become a league-leading tackler a year ago in this same way. Furthermore, he is still only 22 years old until October.
Much fuss has been made about what Muhammad Wilkerson can bring to the table with Mike Pettine now calling the defensive shots. Clark, however, is in a position to optimize Pettine’s blitz packages and free up players like Wilkerson, Nick Perry and Clay Matthews to make homes in the backfield.
That doesn’t mean Clark can’t go and get his own sacks. He brought in 4.5 sacks during his sophomore season of 2017, and absorbing double teams isn’t exactly going to stop him from pressuring QBs:
Those 4.5 sacks that Clark obtained last season were all collected during the last quarter of the regular season. Per PFF, Clark was seventh in pass-rush productivity last season. If that’s any indication of where Clark is going, he could be figuring out how to be more effective on passing downs. It’s a reasonable next step in his progression as a third-year player.
Last season, I wrote about Clark having an emergent 2017. As anticipated, his great season didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but rather on the game tape. The Packers were also relatively thin on D-line options. This season they have Wilkerson, Mike Daniels, a healthy Montravius Adams, and Dean Lowry to rotate on the defensive line with Clark to keep players as fresh as possible.
With some good injury luck, the Packers boast one of the best defensive line units in football thanks to the unheralded work of Kenny Clark and company.