The conventional narrative is the Jets doubled up on three positions in the 2017 draft. In the early rounds they took a couple of safeties. That was followed immediately by a couple of mid round wide receivers. And that was followed by a pair of sixth round cornerbacks. But is Jeremy Clark really a cornerback?
Clark played a year and change at cornerback at the University of Michigan, but he also played a year at safety. It’s not entirely clear where he is best suited as a pro.
At 6’ 3”, 220 pounds, Clark would be just about the largest cornerback in the NFL. In NFL history no cornerback has ever played at more than five pounds heavier than Clark’s weight, and only Brandon Browner did that. Clark would also be bigger than any defensive back, safety or cornerback, to ever play for the Jets.
Clark is so big he is significantly bigger than the two safeties the Jets took with their first two selections in the 2017 draft, having 3 inches of height and 6 - 13 pounds of weight on Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. No safety likely to see much in the way of non-special teams snaps on the Jets roster is within three inches of Clark’s height, and no such safety other than Adams is within ten pounds of Clark’s weight.
As for the cornerbacks, no cornerback on the Jets roster likely to see significant non-special teams snaps other than Juston Burris is within 20 pounds of Clark’s weight, and no such cornerback is less than three inches shorter than Clark.
Jeremy Clark’s physical dimensions profile more in line with a linebacker than a cornerback. Among the linebackers at the 2017 NFL Combine Clark would have been tied for 2nd in height, and 8th in arm length, while testing middle of the back in the bench press with 20 reps. On the Jets Clark would be tied for the team’s 2nd tallest linebacker, an inch shorter than Lorenzo Mauldin. Clark has more in common physically with linebacker Darron Lee than he does with any of the Jets cornerbacks.
Jeremy Clark’s speed also projects better as a safety than as a cornerback. Clark was injured and didn’t run the 40 yard dash at the Combine, but he was projected to run around a 4.5 when healthy. That is great speed for a linebacker, pretty decent speed for safety, but well below average speed for a cornerback.
So what is Jeremy Clark likely to be at the NFL level? It’s difficult to say, but one possibility is that Clark profiles for a similar role to his teammate at the University of Michigan, Jabril Peppers. Peppers coming out of college was considered a jack of all trades, capable of playing cornerback, safety and linebacker, as the matchups dictated. Peppers, like Clark, played both cornerback and safety (as well as some linebacker) in college. Peppers is four inches shorter, seven pounds lighter and has two inches shorter arms than Clark, while running a similar 40 time (4.46) to Clark’s projected 40 time. None of this is to suggest Clark has the same level of talent or the same prospects for NFL success as Peppers; I am just noting that Clark is in fact taller, heavier, and roughly the same speed as a guy who played in the same college system, played much of the same positions, and was drafted in the same year. Peppers will likely end up as primarily an NFL safety, with some ability to matchup as a cornerback against bigger, slower receivers and as a cover linebacker against tight ends and big slot receivers. It is not much of a stretch envisioning Clark in a similar role with the Jets.
Jeremy Clark is probably too big and bulky to match up as a traditional outside cornerback against NFL receivers with elite speed and lateral quickness. His best role, once he recovers from knee surgery, may well end up being primarily at safety, with the ability to slot in as a cover linebacker in certain matchups and as a cornerback in other matchups. So did the Jets end up drafting three safeties in the 2017 draft? Who knows? It may well be the three safety look some have projected for the Jets going forward will eventually end up being manned exclusively by the class of 2017.