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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: Michigan DE Frank Clark

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at Michigan DE Frank Clark

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Clark's Michigan career started slowly, ramped up and then ended in a storm of controversy. In 2011, as a true freshman, he played in twelve games, mostly on special teams, recording 10 tackles. The following campaign, Clark earned four starts, finishing with 25 tackles (nine for loss) and two sacks. As a junior in 2013, he started all 13 of the Wolverines' games, logging 43 tackles (twelve TFLs) and 4.5 sacks, earning Second Team All-Big Ten honors. Last season, Clark started the first nine games, amassing 42 tackles (13.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks before being dismissed from the team by head coach Brady Hoke after an arrest on domestic violence charges.

As has been well documented, the domestic violence charge was not the only incident blotting his record; in 2012, Clark pleaded guilty to a second-degree home invasion felony charge after stealing a laptop from a Michigan dormitory. It is widely thought that his history of poor decision-making away from the game will eliminate him from draft consideration for several teams. In response, he and his agent have been in damage-control mode; since his dismissal from Michigan, Clark checked into DV counseling and apparently conducted himself well in Combine interviews, answering questions about his situation honestly and directly.

On the field, Clark plays with quickness, explosion and power. He is an energetic hustle machine. His best attribute is his NFL-caliber hand usage. He works through blocks masterfully, and sheds blockers on his way into the backfield. Penetration is a key part of his game, as Clark's high TFL totals indicate. He certainly has an NFL-caliber skill set, and can thrive in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at Clark's measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss SPARQ (%)
6' 3" 271 34⅜" 10⅛" 4.79 1.70 19 38½" 118" 7.08 4.05 133.5 (85)

And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

He's not tall for the positions, but he's long, agile and explosive. Does his game tape match that assessment? That's hard to tell, given that they only have one of his games over at Draft Breakdown, against conference rival Northwestern. As it turns out, it was the last game before he was suspended. But he went out with a bang, collecting eight tackles and 1.5 sacks.There are other games out there; check him out against UConn (five tackles, another 1.5 sacks), Miami, OH (three tackles), and Akron (two tackles, no sacks).

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Clark and his game:

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 20th-ranked DE; 216th overall:

Pass Rush Skills: Flashes above average speed to power. Explosive first step. Gets under offensive tackles, locks out and drives. Quick inside move and can cross offensive tackle's face. Adequate wiggle setting up offensive tackles. Low center of gravity makes it tough to knock him off course as works upfield. Occasionally gets stood up and stalls out when tackles are quick enough to set before he makes contact. Knocks hands down and rips up through tackles' outside shoulder but doesn't bend well and takes too wide an angle trying to turn corner. Active hands but struggles to counter when he doesn't win with first move.

Versus the run: Quick enough to shoot gaps and disrupt plays in backfield. Above average initial surge and hand placement. Sets hard edge when stays low and beats blockers to spot but gives ground when pads rise and/or blockers get into frame. Takes too long to get off some blocks. Makes occasional play in pursuit. Good angles and above average range. Latches on and rides ball carriers to ground but inconsistent open field tackler that tends to duck and lead with head.

Versatility: Played off the line more on 2014 tape and moves well enough to play 34 OLB but a little tight in space. Long, strong and heavy enough to play 34DE. Best fit is at LDE and strong enough to kick inside to rush the passer in sub-package.

Instincts/Motor: Nasty disposition and plays with a chip on shoulder. Arguably crosses the line and borderline dirty at times. Motor is a notch below elite in terms of chasing the run and rushing the passer. Doesn't give up on many plays and makes plays with effort. Bounces up after getting knocked to the ground.

Intangibles: Michigan dismissed Clark after police arrested him on domestic violence charges in fall of 2014. Pled not guilty and it's an ongoing case at the time this report was written. Michigan suspended him after authorities charged him with a second-degree home invasion, in the summer of 2012. Didn't play in the season opener against Alabama that year. Reinstated for Air Force game following week. Plead guilty to felony charge and received probation. Hard worker in weight room. Majoring in general studies.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 8th-ranked DE; 77th overall:

Strengths: Downhill defensive end who can play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Has the power to control the edge and is able to disengage and finish as a tackler. Fires out of stance with good burst upfield as pass rusher. Keeps pad level low and converts speed to power. Gets shoulders turned when he rounds corner as pass rusher, gaining leverage advantage.

Weaknesses: Effort rusher who relies on motor and power over talent. Lacks fluidity and natural transition from move to move as pass rusher. Doesn't gain much ground with spin-move counter, often twisting in place. Lacks subtlety of movement or footwork necessary to execute consistent inside move at the next level. Marginal change-of-direction talent. Has had multiple off-field issues during his time at Michigan and was dismissed from Michigan in November after being arrested on domestic violence charges.

Sources Tell Us: "I don't think he gets past the 4th round at the latest. Our team felt like he gave honest answers regarding previous incidents and we came away feeling much better about him after speaking to him." - NFC Personnel Executive

NFL Comparison: Scott Crichton

Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) 12th ranked DE:

Strengths: Powerful build with good body thickness - added 60+ pounds the last four seasons, working hard to develop his growth potential...quick first step upfield with sustained momentum to work off blocks and win the edge, taking sharp angles to the pocket...active, quick hands to work through blockers with excellent push-pull technique...sets up his moves and appears to have a rush strategy, making adjustments throughout the game...attacks the chest of blockers and drives them backwards, locking out with his long arms...closes fast and violent...hyper-active motor with top-shelf hustle to finish through the whistle...relentless in pursuit and closes with violence...improved backfield vision with the discipline and recognition to stay at home, trusting his eyes and holding the edge...has some experience dropping in space with fluid feet and the natural instincts...productive starter with 35.0 tackles for loss in 26 career starts...attended counseling since his dismissal from Michigan and has invested time and energy into reconciling the situation.

Weaknesses: Almost too muscle bound, restricting his movements at times...overaggressive and will over-run plays due to his high-effort style...inconsistent leverage off the edge and prefers to use his natural ability over fundamentals...needs to consistently load more ammo into his punch...suspect anticipation in space and can be late to react - late off the snap too often...needs to better break down on the move to control his momentum and finish...worrisome off-field red flags - dismissed from the program after a domestic violence arrest (Nov. 2014) for allegedly striking his girlfriend in a hotel room (case is still pending); arrested (June 2012) and convicted of second-degree felony home invasion after stealing a laptop from a dorm room; pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the center line (March 2014) without proof of insurance or proper plates and had a bench warrant issued after he missed his court date.

Bob Sturm (Dallas Morning News):

What I liked: He is a high energy edge rusher who has caused a lot of havoc in the offensive backfield over the years and has a real interesting combination of skills.  On one hand, he has one of the best bull rushes for a man in his weight class that you will see.  He really doesn't have many pass moves, but you see him routinely get both hands inside the shoulders of tackles and jack them right back into their QB pretty often (See above).  But, then, he also has absurd quickness for a man his size and a few times goes around the tackle completely and circles to make a tackle.  He also can play with his hand in the dirt and then play as a stand-up linebacker and actually chase in pass coverage with reasonably capable hips.  He is a very impressive athlete that looks like a fluid player of 250 pounds, even though he is over 270.  He also plays with very good energy and motor.    His hands are quite active on his pass rush and with his very long arms, he deflects more than his share of passes.

What I did not like:  The biggest question I have when watching him play is where his production was overall.  If he has this many skills and talents, why are his sack totals never above 5 in a season in 4 years at Michigan?  Clearly, I am watching the games where he is getting his production because he seems like a dominant player in spurts, but did not achieve dominance very often given a 4.5 and 5 sack season in the last 2 years.  9.5 sacks in 23 games is just not extraordinary.  Beyond that, it will be interesting if teams see him as a LB or a DE.  If he is a DE, then, he will need to continue to work on anchoring against run plays right at him.  But, he is a very impressive player for sure.

Summary: Frank Clark is a real interesting study.  Without the elephant in the room, he is going in the Top 2 rounds for sure.  With the elephant in the room, he may not get drafted at all.  It is not something I want to cover at great length, but it is worth suggesting the news cycle of adding Greg Hardy and Frank Clark in a one-month or so span would be too much for the area to handle.  That said, he would fit the profile perfectly for the type of player that Rod Marinelli is seeking and has some arguing on his behalf at Valley Ranch in the front office – an active, athletic, versatile, and disruptive player who can be another difficult assignment to block as you attempt to collapse the pocket.  He is a very rare athlete who can vertically leap 38.5″ despite being a defensive linemen, and with his motor and his bullrush strength, some team is going to be willing to deal with the media uproar to get a piece that might really come at a bargain due to the baggage.

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As might be expected for a prospect with Clark's combination of on-field positives and off-field negatives, our panel is all over the place in their assessments of him. Let's review: Zierlein has him in the first half of round three; Brugler slots him as a fifth rounder; Horton and the boys at Scouts, Inc. think he'll go in round seven. What's Ol' Rabble to do? I'll split the difference between Zierlein and Brugler and put him the fourth round on my "little board."

I think it's clear that the Cowboys are intrigued by Clark, and they believe that he could be a terrific day three value pick. The first inkling that this might be the case was when the former Wolverine suddenly popped up on Bryan Broaddus' first mock draft of the season last week, before it was announced that Clark was one of the team's pre-draft visits (I cannot think this was a coincidence; Broaddus was trading in inside information). Both Broaddus and Dane Brugler had Clark as the Cowboys fifth round pick.

Let's set aside the off-field stuff for a moment. I agree with Sturm that Clark's tape is that of a first- or second-rounder (as is his raw athleticism; he had the fourth-highest SPARQ score in the EDGE category). And now that Clark has reached a plea deal that dropped his charge from misdemeanor domestic violence to disorderly conduct, teams might be lining up for Clark, with CBSSports wondering whether Clark could be a top-100 pick. If they drafted him there, I wouldn't pull my hair out, but I'd be much happier if they were to get him about where they'd feel more comfortable, given his off-field history: with one of their first two day three picks. If that were the case? I'd consider that a fine choice, indeed.

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Next up: Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon