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[Draft sheets] Damone Clark (LB), the 2023 project

Damone Clark – Linebacker – 22 – Senior – LSU

Cut : 1m89

Weight : 108kg

Estimated draft position: 3and – 4and round

Stats 2021: 12 games, 135 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, 1 covered fumble

NFL Comparison: Leighton Vander Esch (Cowboys)

Strong points

– Tackle
– Pursuit
– Waist/athletic combo
– Violent hand
– Progress

Every year, many players are carried by their athletic tests. Damone Clark is part of this category with a size cut out for the NFL. A slender player, he is very explosive on the first presses and has good speed in a straight line. His feet are always on the move, and thanks to flexible hips he can cross gaps quickly, allowing him to quickly close in on the ball carrier and be a real threat as a blitzer. He also exhibits good lateral mobility and a great range in pursuit, able to cover a lot of space from sideline to sideline. He can both serve as a spy on double-threat quarterbacks, cover tight ends on the edge of the field or receivers in the slot.

Tall for the position, he’s tough enough to get rid of blocks to stop the action. Clark still has his hands ready to make contact and uses his wingspan to expand, preventing the linemen from latching on. Tackle is one of his strengths, and barring the occasional suspect angle, he does well in that department with an often physical approach. He has the strength to take down taller ball carriers, but will need to learn to be a more of a finisher to prevent yards after contact.

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In his first three college campaigns, Clark made 113 tackles, including 8 for loss and 4.5 sacks. He topped all those numbers last year with a full-time starting role. If he won the honors of the 2and All-SEC team, he was also named a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the top linebacker in the nation. His athleticism is an interesting base, but he has mostly shown operational growth in 2021, improving in all areas of play as the weeks go by. He took a big step forward mentally and proved he could use training effectively to maximize his physical abilities. Work outside the field that will not go unnoticed by recruiters.

Weak points

– Wound
– Air cover in his back
– Reading speed
– Instincts

His athleticism gives him a very high ceiling, but the linebacker still has things to work on. His readings will have to be faster and he will have to learn to keep his eyes on the ball. Additionally, his instincts remain a concern and may limit the types of patterns he will be productive in. Clark often strayed through orientation errors to end up out of position. He must strive to be more disciplined and patient in his analysis to maintain his place. He is moving too quickly into stocks, leaving the door open for big gains. His poor judgment easily fooled him in streaks in college, and in the faster-paced NFL, that problem could be compounded.

The tools are there for him to excel against tight ends or running backs, but the linebacker still needs to develop his coverage game. In the middle of the field, he must anticipate more and take into account the yards after reception in order to have a better angle of attack. He sometimes freezes when he reads the quarterback’s eyes, causing him to lose precious seconds. The technique is also to be refined. He can take his eyes off the ball, or turn his back on the action, which puts him at a disadvantage.

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Finally, the biggest question mark concerns his state of health. He underwent spinal fusion surgery this offseason and is expected to miss his rookie season. A brake on his progress that could put off some teams.

The stat

7 seconds 12 on 3 cones during Combine

The 3-cone workshop, which actually uses 4 cones and forms an L, assesses how fast a player can change direction while accelerating. It is designed to measure speed, agility, change of direction, and body control. Damone Clark was renowned for being an athletic player, he demonstrated it during this exercise. With a time of 7 seconds 12, he placed 6and linebacker on practice.

Possible destinations

Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, Las Vegas Raiders, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys

Careful linebacker, his heavy back operation may lower his rating. Still, Damone Clark has the talent to become a potential starter in the NFL. But for that, he will have to learn to trust his instincts and refine his technique. Once he improves his readings, he can hope to become MIKE or a 3-4 ILB at the NFL level. Otherwise, he can always adapt as WILL or SAM, in a more responsive and versatile role.

He won’t be able to help this season, but he’s worth the risk. In Chicago, Roquan Smith and newcomer Nicholas Morrow will not be under contract beyond 2022. This would provide a quality alternative if the incumbents leave within a year. Same story in Dallas, where Leighton Vander Esch only re-signed for a year and the Cowboys have already proven in the past that they are ready to take risks on players despite medical red flags. The linebacker position is one of the needs the Falcons must meet following the loss of Foye Oluokun in free agency. The next campaign promises to be difficult and the selection of Clark would fit into a long-term vision. Raiders and Browns have needs on the position and they have the option of adding a tackle machine that can become a reliable starter in years to come.

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