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Scouting Jets offensive lineman Cameron Clark

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Charlotte at FIU Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the draft now complete, we’ll be providing in-depth breakdowns of each of the Jets’ draft picks and undrafted free agents. We continue today with the last of their three fourth round picks - offensive lineman Cameron Clark.

The 22-year old is listed at 6’4” and 308 pounds and was a three-year starter as the left tackle for the Charlotte 49ers. Clark was an all-Conference USA first-teamer last season.

Background

Clark was rated as a three-star high school recruit by ESPN and didn’t receive any offers from Power-5 schools, so he accepted an offer to attend Charlotte.

Having redshirted his freshman year, Clark saw plenty of action in a rotational role as a redshirt freshman. In all, he played over 400 offensive snaps and started two of the last three games.

By midseason in his sophomore year, Clark had established himself as the full time starter at left tackle, starting the last six games and eight overall. He even won the team’s MVP award at the end of the season.

As a junior, he started every game and was selected as an all-Conference USA first-teamer by Pro Football Focus. Then, in his senior year, Clark was voted as a first-teamer again, this time by the coaches after a season where he gave up just one quarterback hit and no sacks.

Having attended the East West Shrine Game and scouting combine, Clark was a projected mid-to-late round pick according to most experts and ended up being selected by the Jets with the 129th overall pick.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Clark brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Measurables/Athleticism

Clark has good size, excellent length and big hands. He had bulked up by the end of his college career having been officially listed at 294 heading into his final season.

He posted mediocre workout numbers at the scouting combine where he opted not to do agility drills. He ran a 5.29 in the 40-yard dash and posted a 101-inch broad jump but his vertical was only 25 inches. Since the combine, Clark has said he’s been working hard to improve his change of direction and flexibility.

He posted a solid 26 bench press reps to display good upper body strength, which is also evident from his film.

Usage

Clark made all of his starts for the 49ers at left tackle. However, his college coach has confirmed that he is capable of playing inside - even, potentially, at the center position.

While he has the length to play outside, he perhaps lacks the requisite athleticism so would seem to be a better fit at guard at the NFL level, where his length and experience at tackle would be good assets.

During his career, Clark played 10 snaps at right tackle, two at right guard and some as a jumbo tight end or lined up on the right in an unbalanced formation. He even lined up in the slot twice, presumably when the 49ers ran a gimmicky three-man line.

Pass Blocking

Clark’s pass protection numbers are fascinating because he dramatically reduced his pressure rates in his senior year. He didn’t give up a sack and only allowed a handful of other pressures without ever surrendering multiple pressures in a game.

Furthermore, in 2018, he gave up three sacks and one hit, but these all came in the same game against UAB. After that game, he only gave up two pressures in the last seven games.

It’s worth investigating that game in detail because Charlotte gave up five sacks and Clark was a factor in the first four. Two saw him beaten cleanly, one saw him part of a failed collective effort to pick up a blitz and another saw him beaten around the edge for pressure which forced the quarterback to step up into another sack. Here was one of those plays.

The 2018 UAB team was a solid pass rushing team, but it was by no means elite and lacked any serious NFL-level talent. Whether Clark was perhaps banged up that day or just had a wake-up call and was determined not to let it happen after that remains a mystery but he didn’t look very good. However, he immediately turned things around, giving up just seven pressures in the last 20 starts of his career.

Digging deeper into those numbers over that last season and a half, to what can we attribute this immediate and dramatic improvement?

If you think back to our Mekhi Becton scouting report, you’ll recall us noting that Pro Football Focus had suggested Becton didn’t have many “true pass sets” so his pressure percentages might be misleadingly low. While we don’t have the same breakdown for Clark, we suspect this would have also been the case for him because the 49ers ran plenty of RPO-like plays, along with quick rollouts, play action and other plays that mitigated any requirement to stay in front of a pass rusher for more than a few seconds. In addition, Clark also often got help from the left guard in pass protection.

Nevertheless, he does display some good tools, the best of which are his strong hands, long arms and redirect power. He is often the aggressor with a well-timed first punch that will consistently have good weight behind it. He also uses his length well to buy himself extra time.

Clark seems to be able to re-anchor against a bull rush but is probably going to struggle to stay in front of speedy edge rushers at the NFL level. His strategy in dealing with such situations in college was usually to just use his length and upper body strength to redirect them further upfield, although in Charlotte’s bowl game he allowed his man to go the long way round as the quarterback rolled away to the right, leading to a big hit from behind and a fumble.

While that was justifiably not credited to Clark because the quarterback held the ball for too long and didn’t sense the hit coming, Clark still should have done better to slow up his man coming off the edge.

Any time a pass blocker struggles with a speed rush, this can also mean that they can be susceptible to inside moves as they drop off into their stance. To his credit, this seems to be something Clark was doing a better job of reacting to in his senior year, although he did get beaten once on a spin move.

Ultimately, Clark may not be equipped to handle the tackle role at the pro level, but his skill-set looks like it might suit a move to the inside quite well.

Run Blocking

Clark’s draft stock took a big jump in the 2019 match-up with the Clemson Tigers. Obviously facing a number of NFL prospects, Clark was outstanding as he put together a string of impressive highlights that showcased his effort, power and nastiness in the running game.

Remarkably, this was Clark’s best-graded game of his career as a run blocker, so obviously the rest of his film is more hit-and-miss. However, he was mostly effective as a run blocker so this is less of an outlier than the UAB game is for his pass protection numbers. In any case, maybe it’s instructive to learn that he was able to raise his game to the level of competition.

Clark has real potential as a run blocker and does a lot of things that would translate well to a move inside. He is strong at the point of attack, can get out to the second level and make a block in space and is capable of working in combination with another lineman and then peeling off onto a new assignment.

Generally speaking Clark has the strength and power to drive his man off the line or downhill. As is the case when he’s pass protecting, he can move well enough to stay in front of his man and use his momentum against him to redirect him out of the play as he does here.

Blocking on the move is a different proposition and whether he moves well enough laterally to thrive in such situations at the NFL level remains to be seen. However, he would often see success on the move and in space because he has the ability to square up to his target so he can turn and secure the block to seal him off cleanly.

One thing that stands out from Clark’s film is his ability to make a cut block, especially since this is something that Becton was somewhat inconsistent with.

It’s worth noting that in the UAB game where he gave up all those sacks, Clark had a very solid game as a run blocker. That may suggest that injuries were not the reason for his pass blocking struggles.

Short Yardage

Charlotte seemed to have some good success in short yardage situations. Clark’s power at the point of attack was a good reason for that as he didn’t often get stood up or allow penetration. On this play he basically caved in the entire right side of the defensive line.

Screen Blocking

Charlotte didn’t run many screen passes and when they did, they seemed to have the most success by leaving Clark in to block and letting the right side of the line leak out in front of the play.

Here’s a play where they try to get Clark out in front of a screen and it doesn’t work out too well.

Clark was called for being illegally downfield on one other screen pass that didn’t work out. Concern over that possibility might be why he was late to leak out on the above play.

Footwork/Technique

While Clark has some good highlights, the totality of his body of work has some inconsistent film and plenty of things he needs to work at improving.

He can look a little uncomfortable when dropping back and can be a bit too high in his pass blocking sets. On this play his base is too narrow and it allows his man to get him off balance and drive him back so he can shed and finish.

Footwork is also an issue both in the running game and pass protection. Rather than getting his feet under him, Clark will have a tendency to lunge after his man, which can lead to him falling off blocks in the running game and losing outside leverage in pass protection situations.

At the point of attack, he sometimes needs to be more consistent with his pad level. This will be especially important if he moves inside.

On a more positive note, his hand placement and strikes are good, although he could still do with some work on his timing as he can be predictable or over-aggressive at times.

Penalties

One pattern that was apparent with all the offensive line additions the Jets have made this year was that they all had low penalty counts. This is not really the case with Clark who had 20 penalties in his career, including a career-high eight last season.

His main problem last season was getting called for holding, which accounted for half of his penalties. He did show improved discipline down the stretch though, with just one penalty in the last six games.

When he first moved into the starting line-up, he was initially a little bit jumpy, as he had three false start penalties in his second career start. He’s been a lot less jumpy since then, with just one false start last season.

Special Teams

Clark’s only special teams role at Charlotte was as a blocker on the placekicking unit. He lined up in a few different positions along the line within that role.

On this play from his redshirt freshman season, Clark allowed penetration and a low field goal was blocked.

Instincts/Intelligence

In pass protection, Clark was often a spare man tasked with helping out his linemates or picking up a late rush. However, he seemed to have mixed results in terms of dealing with stunts and blitz packages. This play ended up as a sack as he moved across to pick up the outside rush when he would have been better off staying at home.

As a run blocker, he shows an ability to adjust on the fly if peeling off onto a second assignment or in this case where he resets his angle to give the runner a lane.

Clark was on the Dean’s list at Charlotte and his coaches have praised his knowledge of the game.

Attitude

Clark, who was a team captain in each of his last two seasons, is regarded as a durable leader with a good work ethic.

When the Jets drafted Clark, Joe Douglas specifically praised his toughness, attitude and mentality.

On the field, multiple analysts have been excited by Clark’s nasty streak. He has plenty of highlights where he is throwing people around or taking them down, especially in that Clemson game.

Injuries

Clark was reliable for the 49ers, fittingly playing in 49 of 49 games during his college career. That included 31 starts in a row to end his career and, even more appropriately, he got the honor of wearing the coveted number 49 jersey in his final game.

In a recent interview, Clark stated that he had injured each of his ankles while in college, so he has been working hard to strengthen them and improve his flexibility. However, these injuries obviously weren’t bad enough to prevent him from playing.

Scheme Fit

As noted, most analysts seem to believe Clark would fare best on the inside at the NFL level and there are indications from his film that this might be the case.

The Jets’ system is designed so that the quarterback gets rid of the ball early, which is probably why the Jets will be undeterred by any concerns over Clark not having had much experience in true pass sets.

The Jets’ running game has a mixture of zone and man/power schemes. Clark saw some success in both while at Charlotte, although some analysts may doubt whether he’s athletic enough to really thrive as a zone blocker or pulling guard.

Conclusions

While the Jets have bolstered the guard position during this offseason by re-signing Alex Lewis, retaining Brian Winters and adding Greg Van Roten and Josh Andrews, it seems unlikely any of these is going to be a foundational piece beyond the next year or two.

If Clark does move inside and develops into the starter-level player that many draft analysts believe he could be this is exactly the type of low-cost addition every contending team needs to become a contributor.

He has the potential to be a difference maker in the running game and can be an efficient pass protector whose skill-set may be well-suited to a move inside. He may also be an option at the tackle position should the need arise, but it seems more likely his future is on the interior.