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Frank Clark brings everything Steve Spagnuolo seeks in a defensive end

Matt Lane breaks down the Chiefs’ newest defensive end with a full film review.

Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Many thought something else was coming.

With extra cap space and still some apparent holes that looked like they would be difficult to fill in the draft, it seemed possible that Brett Veach and the Kansas City Chiefs weren’t finished acquiring veteran players — whether the move was a late free-agency signing or a trade for an established player.

Leading up to this point — or at least to the Bashaud Breeland signing — the thought was that a trade for a cornerback could be in the works. Whether a blockbuster move for Jalen Ramsey or Xavier Rhodes — or a smaller one for someone like Trae Waynes — most thought the move would come at that position.

Instead, what happened was that the Seattle Seahawks were strong-armed into paying a top-five quarterback — that put them in a financial pickle. Add that Seattle seemed less than sure about making defensive end Frank Clark part of their long-term plans, and Clark is now a member of the Chiefs.

The trade

The Chiefs were able to finalize a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to acquire Frank Clark in exchange for the Chiefs’ 29th pick and a 2020 second-round pick — whichever one is later. The teams will also swap third-round picks this year.

On the surface, there will probably be some pushback — given that it’s significantly more than what the Chiefs were able to get for Dee Ford (a single 2020 second-round pick), but there are other factors at play.

Clark’s career consistency, age, and player profile are all superior to Ford’s. No matter what side of the value argument you’re on, one thing is a fact: he is a better fit for Steve Spagnuolo’s defense and is now a part of Chiefs’ long-term plans.

The fit

So let’s briefly address Frank Clark’s fit.

Last week I wrote an article about Steve Spagnuolo’s past trends, his preferences in defensive ends, and how that is now manifesting itself with the Chiefs.

Clark fits all three primary criteria — height, weight and arm length — that Spagnuolo has previously desired. He falls just short on one secondary criterion: bench press.

Clark is a typical Seahawks 4-3 Leo, which elicits the thought of a speed rusher. Clark’s explosion — seen both off the snap and in his testing — certainly backs that up, as does his agility testing and demonstrated an ability to run the arc. But that’s neither the bread-and-butter of Clark’s game or how his playing style should be defined.

We’ve been talking all offseason about how power rushers with length fit Spagnuolo’s prototype more than pure speed rushers. Reps like this one — where Clark turns his speed off the snap into power— is where he excels the most. It’s not all he does, but the technicality and consistency he displays when he puts his foot in the ground and converts speed into power through the tackle’s chest is at an extremely high level.

What the Chiefs have acquired

The run game

With the Chiefs loading up on bigger, thicker defensive ends that can better withstand the run, it’s easy to call it something they are looking for in their defensive additions.

Clark has the size and strength to make him a mismatch for tight ends in the run game — something that plagued both Justin Houston and Dee Ford against the New England Patriots in the playoff loss. Clark’s ability to identify the run is well above average, and teams that try to use tight ends to take him out of plays are in for poor plays more often than not. Clark then has the athleticism to stretch plays all the way out to the sideline — even after beating a block as his teammates rally to the ball.

Clark’s ability to identify a run — even mid-play — is excellent. Working inside with the blockers, he can see the counter play coming as the pulling blocker comes across the formation, and he’s able to disengage and work back to the ball.

The impressive part is how Clark approaches the tight end — which in this pay is an extra offensive tackle. He has the athleticism to get out ahead of the blocker, but then has the length and strength to punch and engage the blocker first and not give up any ground. As he sees the run coming back across the formation, he’s able to use the leverage he already established with one hand and slip back across the tackle’s face for the stop.

The power

As mentioned above, Clark’s bread-and-butter is his ability to convert his speed into power.

Pressing the outside shoulder of the tackle, Clark puts his foot in the ground and redirects into the the tackle’s chest. From that second step, he extends his hips and hands together with great hand placement and puts the tackle on skates.

Where Clark separates himself from an average player is that he doesn’t immediately try to transition to a disengaging move, but instead reworks his hands and keeps driving. He’s more than happy to walk the tackle into the quarterback to force a bad throw or snag a fleeing QB — rather than trying to force the sack.

Too often, guys can win initially with power, but instead of continuing the push when they get some space they immediately revert to going around the blocker — which risks a recovery.

As a thick pass rusher with long arms, Clark does a great job landing first contact with blockers. Rather than being content with just having the advantage, he attacks that advantage. He’s got a strong lower half that he leverages through his long limbs to generate movement. When this ability is paired with an explosive get-off, he becomes unstoppable for tackles who don’t have strong bases.

The speed

Having power and the ability to play through blockers is great — it perfectly fits the mold the Chiefs appear to be after — but you don’t become as productive as Clark through that alone.

This happens on a screen play, but Andrew Whitworth still has to handle Clark up the arc and get him out of the play. It helps that Whitworth isn’t entering a full pass set, but you can see Clark’s speed up the arc from the explosive get-off. He instantly gets even with the tackle and begins his lean-in to make the corner — but it doesn’t end there. Clark is savvy enough to keep his inside arm ready with a quick cross chop to keep the tackle’s hands off him, which prevents him from being pushed out of the play. After finishing through the chop, he rips back up to get leverage, which helps him turn a tighter corner to get back in to the shallow pocket.

If they cannot press up the arc and win with speed, blockers could sit back and wait for the power rush. But when Clark explodes off the line of scrimmage with such burst, a tackle is forced to gain depth — making their base less reliable — and Clark routinely take advantage of it.

The technique

Clark isn’t a technical savant on the football field, but he has a good arsenal of pass rush moves and a good understanding of when to use them.

Again, Clark quickly eats up space on the tackle — but rather than committing to the bull rush on a blocker who has remained balanced and square, he opts for the long arm instead. This allows him to outreach the tackle and continue to generate movement into the quarterback before he takes that leverage to put the tackle up the arc. Clark’s ability to quickly disengage off the long arm after creating that push isn’t an easy transition.

Clark’s speed to power rush is probably his first move, but he mixes that with a pure speed rush with a rip — and also frequently employs quality cross chop, long arm and even spin moves.

The stunt game

Stunts and twists are expected to be a big part of the Chiefs’ new pass rush plan — and like most athletic defensive ends, Clark excels at looping from the outside to the inside. His burst and explosiveness to shoot through interior gaps is top notch — but where he can really separate himself from some other defensive ends is his ability to be the under man on a stunt.

Here is a SPEAR stunt (similar to a basic EX stunt in which the defensive end and defensive tackle exchange gaps) in which Clark is driving the tackle behind the guard while the defensive tackle files in behind. Clark has the power and strength to be the first player through on a stunt. Whether working through the tackle or even slamming the guard, his power and ability to generate movement allow him to be used as either player on a stunt.

The bottom line

The concern over the cost to acquire Frank Clark is real. The questions about his character are real. This article was solely an assessment of his play on the field.

When it comes to his play, Clark is a consistent, dominant defensive end that plays in all facets of the game. And what he brings to the Chiefs is everything the new defensive coaching staff wants: power, length, versatility, run defense, pass rushing and an upward trajectory in his play.

Clark is a very, very good football player — one who fits the playing style Steve Spagnuolo wants.


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