Last Saturday, the Jets selected Michigan defensive back Jeremy Clark with the 197th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
The 22-year old Clark is 6'3" and 220 pounds and started 16 games over the past three years with Michigan. Playing both safety and cornerback, Clark recorded 50 tackles, three interceptions and seven passes defensed in his college career, but injuries limited his playing time in his last two seasons and he is currently rehabbing an ACL tear.
Clark redshirted his freshman year and didn't register any stats in seven appearances the following season, but started making contributions in 2014, starting the first six games as safety before suffering a season-ending injury.
Before the start of the 2015 season, Clark was moved to cornerback and started seven games while rotating with future NFL players Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling. He had a career-high 21 tackles and all three of his career interceptions.
After starting the first three games at corner in 2016 and playing well, Clark suffered an ACL tear in the fourth game of the season. He has stated that he expects to be ready to go by the time training camp begins.
Clark has terrific size and length but wasn't able to do a full workout at the combine due to his knee injury. He did post an excellent bench press and reportedly ran a 4.47 40-yard dash in high school and a 4.43 in college.
Based on his footage, it seems likely he would have tested poorly for agility, although long arms are seen to be an advantage in shuttle drills, so those numbers may have proved misleading anyway.
When he was playing safety in 2014, Clark would primarily play deep, although against spread formations he would creep up to match up in off-coverage against slot receivers. He lined up in the box sometimes, but not very often.
After moving to corner, Clark wasn't an every down player, as he was employed situationally in some games and rotated out on a series-by-series basis in others. He played in the slot less than he had as a safety after having moved to corner
At cornerback, Clark was employed a lot up at the line of scrimmage in press coverage or bump and run. Michigan would often have both receivers pressing, although they might at times pass the receiver off and drop into a shallow zone. Clark would still also play some press-bail and off-coverages.
Clark had excellent coverage numbers over the past two years, surrendering a completion on just 41% of his targets. However, he did allow 14.5 yards per catch and was beaten for four touchdowns.
One thing that stands out about Clark's coverage is his excellent closing speed, and his outstanding length provides him with an automatic advantage in terms of not losing contact with his man.
In the Indiana game in 2015, the Hoosiers had some success going after him on three straight plays with receiver Andre Booker - a player with 4.51 speed who didn't make it onto an NFL roster - challenging him downfield. The first play saw Booker beat him deep with Clark being bailed out by a very generous offensive pass interference call:
You could perhaps criticize him for allowing too easy of a release, not getting his head turned and not being physical enough at the catch point on that play, but the call left Indiana in a 2nd and 28. However, they followed that up by picking up 15 on a hitch route in front of Clark and then going long again on 3rd and 13 where Clark was basically stride for stride with his man but still almost allowed him to make a diving catch at the sideline.
In 2016, he basically gave up nothing in coverage, allowing just three dump-offs, although one did go for an eight-yard touchdown as he was blocked off on a receiver screen. Chris Godwin almost came down with a downfield one-handed catch against him as Clark used his length to stay in close contact, but again got his head turned too late.
As noted, Clark has a lot of experience of playing press coverage, which no doubt sparked the Jets' interest in him as a potential pro-style cornerback. At times, he was inconsistent with the effectiveness of his jam, but this seems to be something that he'd improved upon in 2016.
Defensive penalties haven't been a major issue for him, as he only had five over the last three years, including one last season. However, he does plenty of hand-fighting down the field and displayed a worrying grab-habit on this play:
With his closing speed, he's shown a good ability to disrupt passes with a well-timed hit. He disrupts this pass with a hit on the intended receiver after playing in off-coverage:
Clark uses his length well to disrupt passes and has good timing and closing speed. However, he does sometimes struggle to get his head turned and locate the ball on downfield throws. On this play, he gave up a deep catch as he overran the ball because he located it late:
He closed well to make this play after matching up in slot coverage though:
This play gives an indication of how his length enables him to recover. Although he semi-whiffs on the jam and the receiver has a step on him on the slant route, he's able to stay close enough to make a diving disruption:
All three of Clark's career interceptions came in 2015, including one where he jammed the receiver at the line in press coverage and was in perfect position to make a tumbling grab:
On the basis of the last three seasons, Clark provides almost nothing in run support with just a couple or run stops each season and only a handful of tackles against the run at all.
Part of that comes from the fact that he's regularly employed in press coverage which makes it easy for a wide receiver to eliminate him from the play by engaging him. However, even when he was playing safety, Clark often played tentatively against the run, perhaps wary of making a mistake.
In one game he made a touchdown saving tackle, taking a safely conservative angle to the ball.
Clark closes well, but not recklessly, as he can deliver some well-timed hits:
His length is an asset in terms of his tackling range and that has helped him to miss just two tackles over the past two seasons. His only missed tackle last year came after his teammate was beaten on a slant pattern and enabled the receiver to run into the clear for a big gain. This was his only missed tackle in 2015, as he was late to disengage from his blocker:
However, when at safety, he had more issues with missed tackles, as he had five in 2014.
Clark has never been a particularly productive tackler, with just 21 being his career-high for tackles in a season, although he had 18 in just six starts back in 2014.
Clark didn't blitz very often and didn't have a sack in his college career. He recorded a rare quarterback hit on this play though, stunting inside off the edge:
Clark made some contributions on special teams at Michigan, playing on the kick coverage, punt protect and punt rush units. He had two tackles and two penalties in 2016.
One of the penalties came on this play where he almost blocked a punt. Under NCAA rules, roughing the kicker should not apply outside the tackle box, although the announcers implied that perhaps the hit might have been viewed as unnecessary roughness:
When Clark was moved to cornerback, there was some suggestion that this would help him because he wasn't suited to having to sit in center field to read and react. By being able to concentrate on his coverage assignment, the hope was that he'd be able to play more aggressively.
There were a few minor issues like getting caught out on wide receiver screens or being late to get into position at the snap, but there wasn't really any evidence of completely blown assignments from Clark.
Clark has been through a lot in college, with the position change - which initially confused him but he opted to go along with it - and the injuries. He's clearly a player that was relied upon to show leadership and had a good work ethic.
On the field, he got into a bit of a shoving match with an opponent after one play, but is always quick to congratulate his teammates after a good play.
As noted, Clark is rehabbing the ACL injury from last September and hopes to be ready for training camp, although Jets head coach Todd Bowles refused to put a timetable on it.
Clark also missed the second half of the 2014 season due to a shoulder injury. He had redshirted his freshman year despite not being injured and as a result, the NCAA turned down his request for a sixth year of eligibility. He would otherwise have gone back to school for 2017.
Clark's length and ability to play press coverage makes him an ideal fit for how Todd Bowles has employed his cornerbacks in the past.
However, his experience at safety could also be something that interests the Jets, who might like to use him in a dual role or as an option to provide cover in a number of roles.
Perhaps the best-case scenario for Clark's career would be Brandon Browner, a similarly-sized cornerback who had some success as a press-man specialist. If Clark's 4.43 time is accurate, that also means that he's two-tenths faster than Browner.
Much like Browner, it seems unlikely that Clark would be able to stay with small and shifty receivers, but if he refines his skills he has all the tools you could want in a larger corner prospect.
The ability to also play safety may also be useful, but Clark's best prospects would appear to be as a bump-and-run corner, based on his film.
Of course, you never can tell how a player will fare when returning from a serious injury, but the number of players to successfully overcome such a surgery is growing all the time.
Initially, it seemed that this pick might be a value pick, perhaps geared towards 2018 following another redshirt year. However, it sounds like Clark might be ready sooner than that, so he'll perhaps be able to compete for a role sooner than anticipated.