Frank Clark: The most polarizing player in Chiefs Kingdom? You get guys like me, who believe he was an absolute monster in 2019 and you get people who thinks he sucks. Still, there’s no denying a few things about Frank Clark.
- He wasn’t healthy at all to start the season, and his play was subpar to his Seattle days
- He got better every week after week 6, arguably his worst game
- He was the Chiefs best defender in the postseason
The postseason was super friendly for Frank Clark. He turned up his production, having 5 sacks, while owning Derrick Henry in a playoff game. He talked about not respecting Henry all week, then showed up and helped force a day where Henry only averaged 3 yards per carry. He was the closer for the team, ending every game with a sack and finishing strong. But after going back and watching every snap of Clark’s, just how good was he? Oh, he was much better than you think. How much better was he? Let’s find out.
One thing that really hurt him early in the season was the injury to his neck. Clark himself spoke often about not being able to feel his fingers, or have jabbing pain any time he tried to generate power. As a power player in Seattle, that really hurt his game. He struggled with the adjustment to more of a speed type of game, but he eventually did adjust to it. Plus, as the season went on more of his power came back. That was most prevalent in the postseason, where he had 2 separate bye weeks to have rest for his nerves.
Clark relied a lot on more on full-extension bullrushes, something he couldn’t do early in the season. They were some long arm rushes, where he would play with one arm, and hit a tackle with a really hard stab. He was able to stab high on the tackle, driving their neck back, and take advantage of tackles light on their toes. In Seattle, he relied more on a speed-to-power bullrush, with not as much extension, and just a full force body blow onto the chest of the tackle. In the last clip, you saw that.
It’s encouraging that he was starting to feel better in the postseason. The Chiefs gave Clark ample amount of rest during the season, needing him to be healthy for the playoffs. He took advantage of that rest, and it allowed his nerves to get healthy. Hopefully, with 6 months of little to no football activities, he got his neck healthy. I hope the Chiefs don’t overwork him in camp, because when he’s healthy he has the rare combination of speed and power from an edge rusher. We need that in 2020.
I’m not a huge fan of the spin move. I think it’s really ineffective most of the time. You need to set it up for 5-6 reps before you can really use it. I see too many defensive ends just over rely on the spin, thinking it can get them out of bad situations. I really only like seeing speed rushers use a spin because they can challenge up the arc enough to get tackles to overset in their depth. Luckily, Frank Clark has that type of speed and times his spins very well.
Clark likes to get his inside arm in front to show a half-man corner, and get the tackle to flash their outside arm. Once that happens, he’s able to use his outside arm in the spin to get on the back of the tackle, and shed the block. Clark has enough ability up the arc to challenge tackles, and his rush angles on the spins are very strong. Again, I don’t like rushers spinning too much, but when Clark has the natural explosion and the rush plan to pull it off, he’s very effective with it. That won the Chiefs the AFC Championship.
One thing about Clark that he doesn’t get enough credit for is his football IQ. He’s really intelligent, coming from great coaching in Seattle and then more in Kansas City. For defensive ends there are a bunch of ways to show your IQ, but one easy way is read option defense. The Chiefs liked to ask their defensive ends to take away the quarterback run, and keep contain to the middle. Still, to do this, you need a defensive end with the patience to see where the ball is going, and the lateral agility to squeeze the frontside gap, and close the hole left open. Clark has both of those things locked down, and it left teams completely abandoning him in the run game. Teams would try to bait him, but Clark’s too smart and agile to be killed there. Shutting down one side of the field really helps in the run game. Clark does that effectively.
For a guy that makes as much money as Clark, and as injured as he was, I’ve never seen a player play with as much effort down-to-down as Frank Clark. I’m not kidding, this dude never quits, and rarely tires out. Even in the game in Mexico City, Clark played 86% of snaps in the altitude, and while worn out still had enough to cause the game winning interception. The dude attacks everything – with very little fear.
Clark turned that up more in the playoffs, routinely chasing quarterbacks to the sideline and refusing to quit on the rush. His famous Deshaun Watson sack gets a lot of attention, and deservingly so. But he played with that effort all postseason, which really uplifted his teammates. His ability to set the tone in the defense plus his on-field play make him worth the contract. Everyone plays harder with Clark on the field. Young players look up to him. That type of value can’t be quantified, but every team wants that guy.
Speed to Power
Clark’s best traits as an edge rusher are his explosion and his speed-to-power game. He has a rare combination of speed, power, and explosion off the ball. His first step is arguably in the top 5 of any in the NFL and his ability to generate power off his explosion isn’t common. He doesn’t play a lot from half-man techniques and prefers to play square to the tackles chest. He’s able to do this using his explosion and contact strength to generate great power. People think bullrushing is just having more strength than a tackle, but considering you’re 40-50 pounds lighter than any tackle you can’t really out-strength many tackles. You need to win with more speed, and convert that into raw power in your arms and core. Clark has both of those things, which kills tackles who play light on their feet.
Clark has reps of him destroying Mitchell Schwartz and Tyron Smith with his speed-to-power from his Seattle days. It’s legitimately rare for someone who’s 270 lbs to have the athletic profile he does. His agility and explosion scores are some of the best in the entire NFL. That’s very clear on the field, and he’s found ways to maximize his athletic profile. Considering he’s going to be way healthier in 2020 Clark should continue to dominate tackles with his rare speed/power combo.
One thing I would like to see more from Clark is general rush moves or work with hands. Seattle Clark was much more fluent with his hands and played with more of a rush plan. Chiefs Clark backed away from some hand work, which partially I think was his adjustment to more of a half-man technique and more cornering. Still, once the playoffs came Clark turned back to more of his Seattle days, working with more of a rush plan and working more moves with his hands.
Clark relied more on a long arm/rip type of move, or a “Club/Pull” against guys like Jack Conklin. Clark had the intelligence to know that Conklin, somebody who doesn’t deal with power well, wouldn’t deal with a club to the chest well, and would lean back and not be square with his body. After, once his arms were pushed back, he would rip through the hands and get around the corner. This was a premium Justin Houston move, who made a living off of that in his time in Kansas City. Clark relied on this move a lot and with a lot of success.
Hopefully, with more time to rest Clark can get back to playing more with his hands and rushing with an actual plan. His postseason games suggested he can do it at a high level, but for progression from Clark in 2020 more hand work would definitely make him a much better player.
When I’m grading defensive ends, one of the things I look for is their ability to chase zone runs from the backside. Why? Because it shows effort, intelligence, patience, and lateral agility. It’s something simple that doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet and isn’t always considered when talking defensive ends. Still, it’s a very important part of the run fit. The back-side linebacker needs to be chasing over to the immediate hole, likely getting the tackle. Still, that leaves the backside C gap open, if the defensive end doesn’t squeeze. Alex Okafor and Chris Jones were killed here often because they’re more stiff defensive ends who can’t shuffle and squeeze holes. For Frank Clark this isn’t an issue at all.
Something that separates Clark from many defensive ends is his impressive agility. At the combine he was in the 99th percentile for short shuttle and 82% in 3-cone drill. He’s very laterally quick and can shuffle across the field quickly. As the backside defensive end in a lot of zone looks, he was able to use his intelligence to key the run and not get baited against play action. Once he realizes it’s a run, he has enough agility and burst to squeeze that backside hole and collect tackles, or force running backs to stop their feet. Once that happens and the frontside defensive tackle resets the line of scrimmage, nothing big can really happen.
While Clark is a complete run defender, he’s definitely at his best as a player setting the edge. Of all the guys I’ve really looked at over the past year or so, few set an edge as well as Frank Clark. His contact strength, explosion, and use of length on the edge are unparalleled. He’s very good at keeping his outside shoulder free, which helps him locate the ball. His base is super strong and he’s really good at resetting his hands to continually keep a tackle from driving downhill. After seeing a running back knife to the inside shoulder of Clark, he would reset his hands inside and close off the hole.
Teams were afraid of running at Frank Clark. They would actively avoid him most games. Going into the Super Bowl, Clark gave up an average of only 3.7 yards per carry when teams ran at him, and he was only ran at 33 times in 18 games. That’s less than 2 times a game. If you think Kansas City’s run defense was bad with Clark, once he was off the field things got way worse. Unfortunately, I don’t have the stat on me, but routinely teams ran to the outside at Tanoh, Okafor, Ogbah, and even Demone Harris. Once Clark was in, they could shift a safety down into the box to help on the strong-side, and help with edge responsibilities. Without Clark, the entire gameplan changes. His ability to set one of the best edges in the league changed everything for this Chiefs defense and should only help in 2020.
Frank Clark is easily one of my favorite Chiefs. Besides Tyrann Mathieu and Tyreek Hill, he’s probably #3 on my list. I’ve loved him since he came to Kansas City and my opinion on him is super high. I felt he got way too much criticism for his play in 2019. It was clear injury was affecting him and the way he was playing all season. Even though Clark was a contact player who played more with brute strength, he couldn’t do it in 2019. Clark had to completely adjust his game to a speed game and was still effective, even if that wasn’t his best trait.
But once the playoffs came, Seattle Clark came back. His ability to set the edge, play with speed and power, and play with his hands were back to peak form. Clark completely changed the Texans and Titans game, and while he didn’t have his best game against San Francisco, he closed the win for us. Damien Williams gets all the credit for closing, but that game was done the second Clark got the sack. His entire fourth quarter of his game was dominant. While Chris Jones had more splash plays, Clark was just as good as Jones throughout that game.
Last year, the Chiefs felt they had a future Defensive Player of the Year in Frank Clark. Fans called it hyperbolic, but watching training camp last year he absolutely mauled Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher in camp. They didn’t even deserve to be on the same field as Clark. Unfortunately, injuries happened. You can’t change that. If he can stay healthy though, he has that potential. I expect Clark to come into camp healthy, stay healthy, and have his best season yet. With more single teams because of Chris Jones, I expect Clark to be in the conversation for DPOY. He should be a dominant run defender, have at least 12 sacks, and constantly wreck games. He may not win it, but he should be in the conversation. Clark’s that good at football. I think we’ll all be reminded of that in 2020.