Earlier this month, it was reported that the Jets had agreed to trade a seventh round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for safety Chuck Clark. Today, we break down Clark in detail.
The 27-year old Clark is listed at 6’0” and 205 pounds and was a sixth round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2017. He has been a full-time starter since midway through the 2019 season and has racked up 384 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five interceptions and five forced fumbles in his career.
Clark was a three-star recruit out of high school and earned his first start for Virginia Tech in the team’s bowl game at the end of his freshman season. He then started every game over the next three seasons.
In his sophomore season in 2014, Clark had career highs in tackles for loss (8.5), sacks (1.5) and passes defensed (11). He ended up fifth in the ACC in the latter category. He then had a career-high 102 tackles in 2015 and was an honorable mention all-ACC selection after a productive final season.
After attending the scouting combine, Clark was a projected late round pick and was selected by the Ravens in the sixth round of the 2017 draft.
In his rookie season, Clark was mostly just in a special teams role but did play 60 defensive snaps. He ended up with 13 tackles and two passes defensed in 15 games. Then, in 2018, he made the first two starts of his career and recorded 21 tackles and his first interception.
In 2019, he began the year as a back-up but then moved into the starting line-up when Tony Jefferson got injured. By the end of the season, Clark had racked up 73 tackles and nine passes defensed.
For the past three seasons, he’s retained a role as a full-time starter, racking up almost 300 tackles and two defensive touchdowns. He had a career-high 102 tackles last season, but no interceptions, sacks, quarterback hits or tackles for loss.
The Ravens signed Marcus Williams to a big money deal and drafted Kyle Hamilton last year and despite remaining in the starting line-up each year, this presumably meant Clark was viewed as expendable heading into the last year of his contract, so the Jets traded a seventh-rounder to acquire him.
Now let’s take a look at what Clark brings to the table, divided into categories.
Clark lacks ideal size although his wingspan is adequate. He ran a 4.54 in the 40-yard dash at the combine and posted excellent agility numbers and a solid broad jump. However, his vertical and bench press were disappointing.
He tried and failed to improve his 40-yard dash and vertical at his pro day and opted to stick with his combine numbers for the rest.
Clark has excellent versatility, as he has lined up deep, in the box, up at the line and in coverage match-ups. He has mainly been a strong safety with the Ravens, although he started six games at free safety in 2022 when Williams was injured.
In college he played as a boundary corner during his first season and was listed as a cornerback when he attended the combine.
Clark has been employed in a variety of ways with the Ravens, including ranging in centerfield, matching up in press coverage, picking up assignments down the field and reacting in zone. A lot of his targets are on short passes underneath though. He hasn’t given up many big plays during his pro career although he has been beaten for 13 touchdowns in six seasons.
As noted, Clark has some experience of playing at cornerback so he moves well, although there are signs of stiffness at times. His lack of size can potentially be detrimental when covering tight ends.
He closes well on the ball, as shown on this play where he jumped a route in a trap coverage for a pick-six.
Clark has shown an ability to make plays on the ball at times with nine pass break-ups in 2019 and 12 in 2021. He does a good job of staying with his man and competing at the catch-point.
He had two interceptions in college and has five in six seasons at the NFL level but he has also dropped multiple chances. He can also be late to track and locate the ball on deep throws at times.
Clark is a productive tackler with good range and closing speed and usually takes good angles in pursuit. He will miss tackles from time to time although his tackle efficiency numbers have been solid throughout his career.
He has shown a knack for forcing fumbles with five in the last four years and will often try to rip the ball out when making a tackle.
He has been called for three facemask penalties at the NFL level.
Despite his comparative lack of size, Clark isn’t shy about taking on blockers in the trenches and is also physical in press coverage and when disrupting routes. He has had seven penalties for pass interference, one for defensive holding and one for illegal contact in his career. He is also a big hitter.
Clark is a productive run defender who can contribute both when lined up in the box and coming up from deep. While he attacks aggressively, he has good gap discipline.
On this play Clark reads the action perfectly and knifes through a gap to make the play.
Clark has generally been able to generate consistent pressure when blitzing off the edge or up the middle. He has also had a total of six sacks in his college and NFL careers combined. He didn’t blitz very often in 2022 though.
Here’s a rush off the edge where he doesn’t allow the quarterback to escape and forces an incompletion in the red zone.
As his role and importance have increased, Clark has played less and less on special teams in recent years. Earlier in his career he had played on every unit, but last year he only regularly featured on field goal defense.
Until 2021, he had also played on the kick coverage unit and has 23 special teams tackles in his career.
Clark has had four special teams penalties in his career, including three while blocking on return units.
Clark is a smart player whose instincts were regarded by many as his best trait when he entered the league. Since moving into the starting line-up with the Ravens, he impressed so much with his on-field communication that he soon took on the responsibility of wearing the defensive headset and relaying signals from the sideline and retained that role throughout the past three seasons.
Here’s an example of Clark making a quick read, enabling him to blow up a short pass on the outside.
While his instincts and scheme knowledge are excellent, Clark can have lapses in focus at times. On this play, he stopped because he thought the ball carrier was out of bounds.
He can also be overaggressive at times, biting on fakes and getting fooled by misdirection. Opposing quarterbacks can sometimes exploit this over-aggressiveness and use their eyes to look him off.
Clark is quiet and reserved off the field despite his role and reputation as an on-field communicator. He’s been a respected leader with the Ravens and obviously has good character.
His on-field discipline has generally been solid, but he did have an uncharacteristically high eight defensive penalties in 2020. He’s never otherwise had more than four though. In his career, he has had four personal fouls including one for unsportsmanlike conduct, although that was apparently a controversial call.
There was a high profile incident earlier in Clark’s career where he got angry with Earl Thomas after he blew a coverage in practice. The two got into a fight after which Thomas was released. This was apparently uncharacteristic from Clark and perhaps telling that the team sided with him over the more experienced former pro bowler.
In 2022, Clark was surprised that the Ravens drafted a safety but vowed to fight for his starting role which he managed to retain all season, showing good resolve.
Clark has been durable throughout his football career. He played 52 games in college and has only missed two at the NFL level; one as a healthy scratch in his rookie year and another due to being on Covid-19 reserve.
He was dealing with a hip injury during the 2021 season and briefly listed as questionable but didn’t miss any time.
It was initially assumed that Clark would be brought in as a replacement for Lamarcus Joyner at free safety. However, he’s played more as a strong safety over the course of his career - and when forced to play free safety due to the Williams injury last year, he didn’t fare as well as he did in the rest of the season.
The next question is what this might mean for Jordan Whitehead. Could Whitehead be the free safety? Will they be interchangeable? Or could Whitehead be expendable due to his high cap number and Clark’s ability to replace him? If both remain on the team, perhaps we’ll see some three safety sets with someone like Tony Adams roaming deep.
During his career, Clark has been a teammate of current Jets CJ Mosley, Isaiah Mack and Chris Streveler. He only started two games before Mosley left though.
Clark seems like a good value pick-up, both in terms of the pick compensation and his salary. (He remains under contract for this year with a $4.1 million cap number).
He’s been a key contributor on a successful team with a good defense, but he generally divided Ravens fans many of whom were glad to see him off the team due to some of his mistakes over the years.
Clark’s attitude, instincts and experience should bring plenty to the team next year and gives them a viable starter in the defensive backfield. It will be interesting to see if his arrival is paired with any other moves in the secondary.