With the 176th pick of the draft, one of the final picks in the fifth round, the Cowboys drafted LSU linebacker Damone Clark. The selection has immediate potential to be the highest value pick for the Cowboys, and maybe one of the best value picks in the entire draft.
After playing in a rotational role his first three years at LSU behind other linebackers that are now in the NFL, Clark became the full time starter in 2021 and didn’t disappoint. He led the Tigers defense with 135 tackles, 52 more than the next player on the team. He also notched 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery, and two forced fumbles.
Clark’s impressive 2021 season thrust him near the top of the linebacker class this year, with many draft experts predicting him to be a firm second-round pick. Clark solidified that hype after his strong testing, which included some elite measurables in the speed and explosion drills.
So why was Clark available here? Well, shortly after the combine it was announced that Clark would need to undergo spinal fusion surgery to repair a herniated disk. The surgery news came with the projection that Clark was likely going to be unable to play at all in 2022, meaning the 2023 season is the best bet for him to make his debut.
This obviously played a huge role in Clark’s tumble down draft boards, and a surgery of this magnitude is definitely enough to scare teams away from spending a high draft pick on him. That said, at 176th overall there is considerably less risk in taking a player like Clark. Late fifth-round picks often don’t see the field much in their rookie year anyway, so if Clark experiences any setbacks in his recovery then it wouldn’t be a huge miss from the draft value standpoint.
If Clark does make a full recovery, as many expect him to, and he performs the way he did at LSU, then the Cowboys are getting a long, athletic tackling machine with three-down potential. Combine that with the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year in Micah Parsons, as well as fellow LSU alum Jabril Cox (himself coming off an ACL injury in his rookie year), and Dallas has to like the long-term future of their linebacker corps.
In terms of the 2022 season, Clark is likely going to be stashed on the PUP list or injured reserve list. But Dallas re-signed veteran Leighton Vander Esch, who had a strong finish to the 2021 season, to go along with Parsons and Cox. In other words, the Cowboys can afford to give Clark time to recovery and get to where he needs to get. The biggest knock on this pick would be his anticipated unavailability in his rookie year, but Dallas seems to be well constructed to mitigate the impact of that.
All in all, this pick should be a highly celebrated one for the Cowboys. Clark was a top linebacker prospect in this draft before the spinal fusion surgery, and landing him here represents tremendous value if he can make a full recovery with little downside if the pick doesn’t work out.
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