Packers 2018 Recap: Kenny Clark
It’s fair to criticize Ted Thompson for his success rate in the first round of the NFL Draft. From Derek Sherrod through Damarious Randall, there’s a laundry list of players that, for whatever reason, didn’t work out.
Through the first 26 games of his career, Kenny Clark looked like he might be another addition to the list of failed first-round picks. To that point, Clark hadn’t managed a sack and had only totaled four tackles for a loss, a paltry sum for a player who had plenty of opportunities against the run.
But then a switch seemed to flip. Clark piled up 4.5 sacks over the last month of the 2017 season and since then, Clark has been a stat-sheet-stuffing monster, blooming into a bona fide star in 2018.
13 games played (720 snaps - 67.67% of defensive plays)
6 sacks, 8 tackles for loss
Expectations going into the season: High
Expectations were: Exceeded
What we said after last season:
Wrapping up his rookie season with a dominant performance against the thoroughbreds on the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line, Kenny Clark was poised to blow up in his second year.
Paired with Mike Daniels, Clark did almost exactly that, posting 4.5 sacks as a solid interior rusher in his sophomore season. Clark at times looked like the more dominant player of the pair, shedding blockers and knifing his way into the backfield to harass quarterbacks and bring down ball carriers.
Analysis: Clark blossoms into a star in 2018
Context is never a bad thing. In Kenny Clark’s case, it makes his rise seem all the more perfect.
Clark was drafted for a very specific reason: the Packers needed to replace B.J. Raji, who started his still-ongoing hiatus from football after the 2015 season. Drafting Clark was the perfect solution in multiple ways.
First, he viewed himself as a versatile, multi-skilled defensive lineman who could play multiple spots wherever he ended up. And second, he was a big fan of Mike Daniels.
"I watch a lot of guys. I like Mike Daniels from Green Bay, and some of our old players like [former UCLA teammate] Datone Jones,” he said at the 2016 NFL Combine.
"I don’t really have a favorite, but I could see a lot of myself in [Haloti] Ngata and the way he plays nose tackle. I’d like to play like [Geno] Atkins in the one technique or shading over to the three-technique. I see myself doing a lot of things like that in the league."
Both of those comparisons turned out to be spot on. Clark is, like Daniels, a former high school wrestler. In Daniels, Clark found both a mentor and a running mate, one whose iron man ways seem to have rubbed off on Clark, who has played more and more snaps each season of his still-young NFL career.
But with Daniels battling injuries all season, Clark firmly took the baton as the lead dog on the Packers’ defensive line. And in a serendipitous twist, he posted 6.5 sacks this season, the same total as Raji in his best Packers season.
The difference is that Clark’s personal arrow seems to be firmly pointing upwards. Raji peaked with his 6.5 sack second season, but Clark’s peak seems still to be far off.