Some people love linebackers, and others love defensive backs. But me, I find myself partial to the defensive line, particularly defensive end. Perhaps it's because 16-year-old dumbass me, when signing up for HS football after having not played since 5th grade, decided to check the boxes to play receiver and defensive end, a combination that doesn't make much sense unless you are Barkevious Mingo.
I'm also a firm believer that three positions can truly affect the game more than the others: the passer, the guy that protects the passers blindside and the guy whose job is to beat both of them up. In recent years, pass-rushing tackles become more and more prevalent, players like the SEC's own Geno Atkins make a killing in the NFL getting consistent pressure in the middle. Up the middle pressure has become especially important against modern offenses which quicken the pace. Proximity to the QB, in this case, matter. Yet still, I'm a sucker for those 6'6" 280 pound war daddies that can run faster than most wideouts, and do the type of athletic things we expect from a corner. Sure, not everyone can be Jadeveon Clowney, but I love the way great defensive end play can mask many sins on defense. While Tyrann Mathieu was the unquestioned star of the 2011 LSU defense, and Michael Brockers was the coal car that kept everything running, both Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery posted impressive numbers and wreaked havoc on opposing offenses.
If you are looking for the apex predator in the 2014 LSU defense, I think we may have found him right here. Yet, as Hunter enters into what could be his final season in purple and gold, we look forward to the the new menaces to be coming off the edge. Namely, Deondre Clark.
Just days ago, ESPN declared LSU DL U for all of college football, something we've long claimed amongst ourselves. We're living in the high tides of defensive line talent, where names like Dorsey and Lavalais and Spears decorate our trophy cases, only to be backed up by Montgomery, Mingo, Nevis, Williams, Wroten. If you're looking for the fastest route to the NFL, just go ahead and stop by LSU, where you can be a career back-up and get drafted in the 5th round.
LSU's search for defensive ends spanned far and wide this season. March brought about the "commitment" of Sharieff Rhaheed, which then quickly fizzled. Rhaheed fit the mold of an edge rusher that the coaching staff sought, but the legitimacy of his commitment brought about questions. By July 1st he decommitted and the staff stopped pursuing him. He wound up at Louisville and is in the midst of legal troubles that we are fortunate to not having to deal with.
LSU's offers were extended to top prospects throughout the country. Myles Garrett in Texas and Lorenzo Carter in Georgia. Chad Thomas in Florida and Malik McDowell in Michigan. Kentavius Street in North Carolina and Da'Shawn Hand in Virginia. The prospect that exhibited the most attention through the summer turned out to be Deondre Clark from Oklahoma. By early April he declared LSU his leader, unofficially visiting just days later. By late June he gave a verbal commitment, just days before the de-commitment of Sharieff Rhaheed.
While LSU's pursuit of other DEs continued, Clark remained a prime target. When January rolled around, Clark decided to take visits to ensure his decision, namely to local favorite Oklahoma. Recruiting insiders began forecasting him into the Oklahoma class, believing his tight relationship to his mother would keep him in-state. The next week he tripped to Baton Rouge with his mother, and the LSU side regained confidence. Clark declared he'd make his final announcement on National Signing Day in front of his HS. LSU fans grew anxious, as weather delayed Clark's announcement for multiple days. But in a bit of detective work, I caught a glimpse of LSU's "board" during NSD coverage:
Considering I cracked the case of Deondre Clark, I feel as if I should be promoted to Lead Detective of ATVS. pic.twitter.com/1HiJcy2gz7— pawwwwllllll (@ATVS_PaulCrewe) February 11, 2014
Seeing Clark's name under the likely list proved enough to soothe any lingering worries. Sure enough, Clark rolled up to Douglass HS in a limo, donned an LSU bowtie and signed with LSU.
Though Clark wasn't selected for either of the two big-time All-American games, he did participate in the Semper Fi All-American bowl, where he impressed all week. He was named one of the West team's top performers and stood out in one-on-one drills, despite being sick and injured.
Clark completed his career at 5A Oklahoma City Douglass HS with 221 tackles, 38 tackles for loss, 2 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble, and 3 fumble recoveries. Mostly impressively, as a senior he doubled as a running back, racking up 1,168 yards and 20 rushing TDs. His efforts earned him All-State honors in Oklahoma. He finished rated as a .9324 as a composite 4-star. This puts him as one of the 10 best DEs in the country and one of the top 150 prospects in the 2014 signing class.
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has "can’t miss" talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who displays pro-potential.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
Tale of the Tape
Weight: 238 lbs.
40: 4.6 (not verified)
There's no official testing times for Clark, but he's quite athletic as exhibited by his ability to do things like this, as well as his success as a running back. Clark's a bit shorter than I prefer from my ideal defensive ends, but he's very well built and should be able to add more bulk and play around 260 pounds. Despite his relatively short stature, he's got long arms, which should help him overcome in that area.
Strengths: Athleticism, Explosion/Quickness, Strength at the Point of Attack
Weaknesses: Height, Pass Rush Moves
Athleticism: Check him out running the football at :05. For a defensive end prospect to be able to find a hole, burst through and score from 45+ yards out, it tells you a lot about his overall athleticism. At 2:00, lined up on the right side of the offensive formation, watch him explode up the field, then stay in pursuit to complete the sack. At 2:50, lined up as the the RDE, he again blows by the tackle to generate an errant throw from the QB. I think there's more untapped athleticism in the tank, as well.
Explosion/Quickness: The highlights referenced above are good sources as well, but check out how he fires off the ball and explodes into the backfield at 3:35.
Strength at the Point of Attack: Probably the biggest thing that stands out is that while he looks to be an athletic, pass-rushing type, he's really strong in the run game, standing up blockers and closing down running lanes. Watch :59, he's lined up to the right side of the offense, he stacks up the blocker, sheds him to the side and stuff the hole for the runner. At 1:12, he's the last man in a four-point stance on the left side of the defense. He attacks up field, stuffing his blocker into the backfield, then throwing him off to make the tackle. At 2:18 he's the LDE, stands up a double team, and still takes down the QB. This is impressive stuff.
Height: As noted, he stands around 6'2", which isn't ideal height for a DE. He does have long arms, which should help in that regard. He's taller than Lewis Neal, but probably a hair shorter than Jermauria Rasco, a player I think he compares favorably to. It's obviously not the end game, but I do think it mitigates some of his athletic upside.
Pass Rush Moves: As far as what the tape shows, he has none. He's pretty much a bull rusher or a win with quickness type at this point. This is not all that unlike most young DL, but it may expectations of early playing time. While he's stature is solid enough to play against the big boys in the SEC, he'll need to refine his technique to become a reliable player.
The athletic tools make Clark an intriguing prospect. His upside is as high as any in this signing class based on tools alone. The question will be, how refined can he get? Physically, he reminds me a good bit of Rasco, both in stature and playing style. I do think Rasco showed up to LSU a bit more refined overall. We had high hopes for Rasco and while he's been a solid player, he's not the elite level of DE many of us expected.
Clark's path to playing time doesn't seem lengthy. Hunter/Rasco man the starting DE spots this season, with Tashawn Bower being the presumptive favorite to fill a starting spot once they move on. M.J. Patterson and Lewis Neal are other veterans, but both look more like role players than full-time starters. How does Sione Teuhema develop? That may be Clark's biggest competition for a starting role.
Clark's natural size and athletic ability may get him snaps as early as this season. I think he's quite raw, technique wise, but you can't teach his athletic tools. How well he shows in camp will dictate if he plays a bit as a freshman, like Bower did, or takes a RS to add additional bulk and refine technique. Wescott Eberts over at the mothership, offered a similar report.
High End: One or two year starter with solid production.
Low End: Rotational back-up and spot starter that can give LSU great snaps. Lowest end would be homesickness hitting hard and him eventually leaving.
Realistic: There's starter potential here. I'm not sure if he's got all-conference upside, but I do think there's a Rasco-type player at the end of the road.