Why Damone Clark is the Day 3 LB the Denver Broncos should target in the NFL Draft

LSU Tigers linebacker Damone Clark (18) reacts against Mississippi Rebels quarterback Matt Corral (2) during the first half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Oct 23, 2021; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; LSU Tigers linebacker Damone Clark (18) reacts against Mississippi Rebels quarterback Matt Corral (2) during the first half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Although inside linebacker is a need for the Broncos, it’s not an especially pressing one, as the Broncos presently have four inside linebackers on the roster the team would be comfortable with, in Josey Jewell, Baron Browning, Alex Singleton and Jonas Griffith.

As a result, the Broncos can afford to take a player who might not make much of an impact in year one, like the remarkably talented but concerningly underdeveloped Troy Andersen. However, their crowded room at linebacker, and the fact the position is an impending need, rather than a desperate one, may lead to them targetting linebacker later in the draft.

How can the Broncos land a top talent at linebacker, while avoiding the costly investment? By targetting someone like Damone Clark, who will have to take a redshirt season as he recovers from a spinal injury, but appears to be a quality Day 2 player on tape.

Should the Broncos take the gamble on Clark?

Strengths

Clark is almost exactly  what you’re looking for at linebacker from a physical standpoint. His 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame is paired with a lengthy wingspan, impressive strength and excellent movement skills.

The tools are great, but he isn’t just an athlete, like some of his mid-round peers. His traits translate.

He’s not as good against the run as his tools would lead you to believe, but when he properly diagnoses the play, he can drop the hammer. His length and strength also allow him to haul in tackles on the outskirts of his radius.

Clark’s coverage ability is very promising and should excite a Broncos fanbase that, over several seasons, has pined for a linebacker that can be more dynamic in the passing game.

He isn’t the most fluid athlete, but he can flip his hips smoothly and carry dangerous pass-catching tight ends up the seam. His frame also shows up here, as it prevents him from being caught in a mismatch against the new-age tight ends that routinely serve as matchup nightmares for their opponents.

He’s also able to beat backs out to the flat, and he even makes an impressive amount of chase-down tackles, thanks to an internal motor that you could fry an egg on 24/7.

Not only is his motor hot, but it doesn’t wane throughout the game. He brings juice to the defense from the first quarter through the fourth quarter, and while it’s a very cheesy, overused term, he’s truly a defensive tone-setter.

This was on full display after LSU upset No. 15 Texas A&M in the final regular-season game of the year.

His first year starting at LSU he was given the illustrious honor of wearing the No. 18 jersey and wore it for his final two seasons with the Tigers. The jersey is traditionally given to a hard-working player that exemplifies the character of what it means to be an LSU player, which should give teams added confidence about drafting Clark.

It’s also clear Clark has a high football IQ, as he is regularly seen helping the defense get in position and his teammates get properly aligned.

Concerns

If you thought the section on Clark’s ability to defend the run under strengths was oddly short, you’re about to find out why.

Although he’s a strong tackler and excellent athlete, Clark is a fairly disappointing run defender, as he struggles to sort through the mess in the backfield and properly diagnose the play. As a result, you’ll see him charge in, only to fill the wrong gap, leading to a big run; or sitting back and playing hesitant, limiting his athleticism, far too frequently.

He should be a great run defender, but his slow processor limits him to just being average. This is definitely an area he could improve on though, as the Broncos just learned with Browning.

His change of direction is also fairly pedestrian, and his combine testing reflects it, as it’s the only athletic test (outside height and weight) in which he didn’t finish among the top 15% of players at his position. Again, this isn’t an area of his game that’s bad, but it’s certainly closer to average than his other athletic traits.

This problem can compound with some of his processing issues in a concerning way though. When he guesses wrong, it’s extra damaging as he struggles more to recover than you’d expect. Fortunately, he has the wheels and the drive to make some impressive chase-down tackles.

Finally, we get to the reason why the Broncos could land such an impressive talent in the latter stages of the third day of the draft. While at the combine this year, medical staffs found that Clark had a herniated disk that will have to be repaired before he’s ready to play.

Clark has since undergone a spinal fusion surgery that has fixed the problem, and he’s expected to make a full recovery, but he is expected to miss the entire 2022 season as he recovers from the surgery. Fortunately, Denver can afford to wait.

Verdict

Damone Clark is one of the best linebackers in the class and he performed his best against the toughest competition. Not only is he a remarkable talent, but he’s been highly praised for his leadership and character, and the evidence supports that praise being more than just lip service.

The injury is definitely a concern and he could stand to polish some areas of his game up, but he’s a top 50 talent the Broncos can probably get outside the top 100 picks. The reason? He’s not gonna play this year.

Well, guess what. Whoever the Broncos draft at inside linebacker is unlikely to see many, if any, defensive snaps this season. You might be missing the rookie year special teams play a guy like Troy Andersen might provide, but you’re ultimately getting a better player at a cheaper price, and it’s not overly difficult to find bodies on special teams. That’s a no-brainer.

If Denver comes away with Damone Clark in the latter stages of Day 3, where he’s projected to go, Broncos Country should be celebrating.

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