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UCLA DT Kenny Clark shows intriguing potential in bowl loss

Troy Wayrynen / USA TODAY Sports
UCLA's Kenny Clark is among the top interior defensive linemen in college football.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Defensive coordinators still believe elite units feature disruptive playmakers down the middle of the field. Coaches covet impact players at defensive tackle, middle linebacker and free safety to force opponents to play horizontal football in key moments. After hearing so much buzz about UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark, I thought I would spend some time digging into the All-22 coaches tape from the regular season to get a feel for his game and potential as a pro. In addition, I wanted to pay close attention to his performance Saturday against Nebraska at the Foster Farms Bowl to get a read on whether he can grow into a blue-chip difference maker on the next level. Given some time to reflect on my observations, here is my scouting report on the Bruins' talented defensive tackle after UCLA's loss to the Huskers.

Note: Clark, a junior who has yet to announce his intentions for the 2016 NFL Draft, revealed last week that he received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. Underclassmen have until a Jan. 18 deadline to apply for early draft eligibility.

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It is hard to find 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive tackles with nimble feet and explosive agility, but Clark is a rare find as a nose tackle. He plays with outstanding balance and body control at the point of attack, exhibiting an uncanny feel for staying on his feet while working through traffic. Although Clark's game is built around a series of power maneuvers (bull rush and forklift) that allow him to play on the opponent's side of the line of scrimmage, he flashes enough lateral quickness and burst to run and chase within the "tackle-to-tackle" box. Most importantly, he plays with a low pad level, which allows him to create penetration against single blocks and maintain his ground against double teams at the point. With NFL defensive coordinators coveting athletic interior defenders that can create disruption with their strength, power and movement skills, Clark's athleticism will make him a coveted prospect.

Run defense
Despite the NFL's shift to a pass-centric game, defensive coaches still covet disruptive run defenders between the tackles. At nose tackle, in particular, defensive coordinators want 300-pounders with exceptional strength, power and hand skills to occupy the middle. Clark certainly fits the bill as a destructive force with exceptional "knock-back" skills at the point. He routinely overpowers interior blockers with his brute strength, yet also flashes enough agility and finesse skills to win with slick arm-over maneuvers at the line of scrimmage. During the regular season, Clark notched 64 total tackles and 9 tackles for loss as a "flex" nose tackle for the Bruins (Clark would occasionally line up two yards off of the line of scrimmage to give him more room to "read and react" at the point of attack).

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Against Nebraska, Clark routinely played on UCLA's side of the line of the scrimmage. He attacked blockers with quick hands at the snap, and showed the ability to quickly disengage while working up the field. His constant activity and relentless combat skills allowed him to make a few hits on runners in the backfield. Most importantly, Clark's dominant presence at the point of attack forced the Cornhuskers' runners to pitter-pat and cut back, allowing the Bruins' linebackers enough time to make a play from the back side.

Pass-rush ability
Clark is an effective pass rusher with a power-based game that overwhelms opponents at the line. He flashes enough strength and explosiveness to move blockers off the ball with a series of "knock-back" maneuvers that destroy the integrity of the pocket on the inside. Clark routinely uses a bull rush or forklift move to drive blockers into the lap of the quarterback. When he complements his power move with quick hands and polished disengage skills, Clark is able to rack up sacks as a pocket pusher. Although I don't believe he will develop into a high-level pass rusher as a pro, I believe he can certainly stay on the field as a "three-down" defender with sneaky pass-rush ability.

Against Nebraska, Clark flashed impressive tools as a pass rusher. He won quickly with an arm-over maneuver on several occasions and registered a sack on a power move to close out the first half. With Clark also generating a few pressures in the second half on an assortment of penetrations off power moves, NFL scouts should be encouraged by his upside as an interior rusher at the next level.

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Blue-chip prospects are expected to affect the game at every turn. Defensive tackles, in particular, must control the middle of the line as run stuffers or pass rushers. Clark certainly flashes disruptive potential as a versatile "one-technique" at the point of attack. He consistently dominates his individual matchup with his sheer strength and power, which forces opponents to send double teams in his direction. Although the double team neutralizes his production, it creates plenty of opportunities for his teammates within the box. If Clark is surrounded with talented players, he will elevate the play of the unit with his presence on the inside. From a statistical standpoint, he probably won't deliver the numbers (sacks and tackles for loss) that jump off the stat sheet, but he can make enough splash plays to force opponents to pay attention to his whereabouts.

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Clark has created quite a buzz in scouting circles as a workmanlike interior defender with intriguing physical tools. He is a disruptive run stuffer at the point of attack, but also flashes some skills as a pass rusher. Although I value his production as a "three-down" player, I envision him occupying a role as a primary run stuffer as a pro. If I had to compare him to a current pro, I would cite the Philadelphia Eagles' Bennie Logan as an example of how Clark could evolve at the next level. He should blossom into a quality run-down player and provide a team with a developmental pass-rush presence on the inside. Given the importance defensive coordinators place on owning the middle of the line, Clark's upside makes him a very intriguing prospect.

QB Rosen impressive in defeat

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The hype machine is pushing UCLA QB Josh Rosen as an intriguing quarterback prospect for the 2018 or 2019 draft based on his spectacular freshman season. He has been compared favorably to ex-UCLA star and Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman by several observers with close ties to the program. After initially dismissing that notion due to the lofty expectations that kind of comparison garners, I'm beginning to believe Rosen might be the best quarterback we've seen in the collegiate ranks in some time following his strong performance at the Foster Farms Bowl. He's an A-plus arm talent with exceptional range and a a tight spiral thrower capable of revving up the RPMs on short and intermediate throws. Rosen is a rare young thrower capable of making every throw in the book with precise ball placement. He routinely throws the ball within the strike zone, but he also helps his receiver by throwing the ball away from the nearest defender to protect the pass-catcher from a big hit in traffic.

Rosen also displays extraordinary poise and composure as a pocket passer under duress. He doesn't panic with rushers in close proximity. Rosen's exceptional vision and diagnostic skills allow him to find open receivers on hot routes or sight adjustments against the blitz. While watching Rosen scan the field to locate his second and third options in the route, I was impressed with his patience and how well he understood the Bruins' passing concepts. Considering that there are NFL quarterbacks that struggle exhausting all of their options on each play, the freshman's awareness bodes well for his development as a potential franchise quarterback.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.



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