The book is finally fully out on Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark. After a breakout 2018 season that saw him record a career-high six sacks while primarily playing nose tackle, Clark is headed for even bigger things in 2019.
The 23-year-old — he will turn 24 in October — has upped his game so much that one media source has him tabbed as the prototype NFL nose tackle for 2019. That publication is Pro Football Focus, whose Mike Renner broke down the ideal players at each position across the defensive front earlier this month.
In this list, Clark joins some rare company, mentioned in the same group as Aaron Donald at 3-technique, J.J. Watt at the 4 and 5, Khalil Mack at 6 or 7, and Von Miller at 9. But while all of those players typically line up outside the guards, Clark is the man when it comes to plugging the middle in the A gap or over the center.
Interestingly, Clark has yet to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl, largely being overshadowed by other interior defensive linemen with even more gaudy pass-rush numbers. However, most of those players — with names like Donald, Geno Atkins, Fletcher Cox, and even teammate Mike Daniels — do their damage from the 3-technique alignment. Indeed, not a single one of the NFC’s defensive tackles in last year’s Pro Bowl lines up over the center with regularity.
Where Clark stands out from his peers over the nose, of course, is that pass-rushing ability. Throughout NFL history, the nose tackle has traditionally been a run-stuffing mountain, immovable but also rarely moving blockers into the backfield. Clark is anything but, and his ability to collapse the pocket from smack-dab in the middle of the line is extremely rare.
Indeed, Clark’s ability to pressure the quarterback is the primary reason why Renner picked him for this list this year:
A few years ago this would have hands down been Damon Harrison. However, the rise of the passing game has forced even nose tackles to up their game in the pass-rush, and no one affects the pass better between the guards than the Packers nose tackle. Last season, Clark’s 91.5 pass-rush grade from 0- or 1-technique was the tops of any player in the NFL. Oh, and he wasn’t too shabby against the run either, as his 90.8 run-defense grade trailed only Big Snacks. As a 20-year-old at UCLA, Clark earned the most bull-rush pressures of any interior player in the nation. Now only 23(!), Clark is doing the same against grown men at the highest level.
Clark’s breakout really began late in the 2017 campaign before he carried his success over to 2018. In his last 18 NFL games — 13 in 2018 and his final five games of 2017 — Clark has totaled 10.5 sacks, an average of 0.58 sacks per game. That compares quite well to many of the established elite 3-techniques across the league; Atkins averaged 0.59 over the past two seasons while Fletcher Cox comes in at 0.53. Donald, of course, is on another planet, racking up 20.5 sacks in 2018 alone to lead the league.
Admittedly, Clark does generate some of his pass rush from the 3-technique spot as well, lining up there in sub packages. But from a true nose tackle position, nobody else in the NFL rushes the passer like him.