The Utah Utes have produced some excellent defensive backs in recent years, but 2023 NFL Draft prospect Clark Phillips III might be their finest one yet. An impressively athletic, hyper-competitive ball hawk, the Utah CB is just a true junior with room to develop in the upcoming college football season. Nevertheless, Phillips’ scouting report already reveals first-round potential early in this 2023 NFL Draft cycle.
Clark Phillips III NFL draft profile
A four-star CB prospect in the 2020 recruiting class, Phillips was a productive high school player on both sides of the ball for La Habra. During three seasons, he tallied 13 interceptions and 32 pass breakups while snagging 1,645 receiving yards and 29 touchdowns.
Originally committed to Ohio State, Phillips eventually landed at Utah, having held over 35 offers from programs including Alabama, Notre Dame, and Clemson. Making an immediate impression for the Utes, Phillips started five games at CB for Utah as a true freshman in 2020.
In a standout game against Washington State, he secured his first career pick-six. Meanwhile, his 25 tackles that season included a career-high nine tackles against USC. Phillips ended 2020 with 25 tackles (two tackles for loss), one interception, one fumble recovery, and two pass breakups.
In becoming the full-time starter at CB for Utah in 2021, Phillips earned second-team All-Pac-12 recognition. His 15 pass deflections led the conference and included two interceptions. Once again, the Utah CB returned an interception for a touchdown against Washington State. Meanwhile, Phillips earned national recognition with an impressive performance in the narrow Rose Bowl defeat to Ohio State that included an interception and forced fumble.
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Utah
- Current Year: Junior
- Height/Weight: 5’9 2/8″, 184 pounds
Clark Phillips III scouting report
It may be extremely early in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, but Phillips has a scouting report that should see him garner attention as one of the top players at his position. There are, of course, areas for improvement and concern. However, the strengths that we’re about to highlight far outweigh some of the negative elements of Phillips’ scouting report.
At 5’9 2/8″, Phillips may not possess the requisite height that the NFL looks for at the CB position. But that hasn’t held him back during his Utah career. He has 19 starts playing outside CB, while also seeing some reps from the slot. It’s easy to cast Phillips primarily as a slot CB at the next level based on his size, but he’s showcased the ability to play outside. The Utah CB plays bigger than his listed size and could be the poster boy for the phrase, “It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
This ability to play bigger than his size and comfort playing outside was perhaps best demonstrated against USC in 2021. Covering gargantuan WR Drake London, Phillips did an excellent job at competing at the catch point, forcing an impressive incompletion on the boundary. That’s something that not even the biggest CBs in college football were successful at last year. As a former wide receiver, Phillips displays impressive ball skills, which he routinely uses to disrupt the ball at the catch point.
There are multiple examples on film of Phillips playing bigger than his size. He’s a physical and aggressive cornerback who doesn’t shy away from battle. He’s not afraid to get down and dirty against the run game, with some reps seeing him compete in the box. While this is a result of his physicality, his excellence against the run is also due to his consistent and reliable approach as a tackler. There were extremely few examples of him missing a tackle in the games studied (2021 — UCLA, USC, Oregon).
Phillips showcases an impressive athletic profile at the position. He has good long speed, while also demonstrating short-area burst. Even against speedier WRs, Phillips doesn’t give up much in the way of separation down the field. Furthermore, the Utah CB is able to cover ground to chase down ball carriers as demonstrated by his forced fumble against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
Cornerback athleticism relies on more than just speed, however. Here Phillips is perhaps even more impressive. The Utah CB showcases quick and light feet, backpedaling with speed as a result. He’s extremely fluid, enabling him to flip his hips and transition from backpedal to a run. Phillips also displays excellent lateral agility and change of direction to be able to remain sticky in man coverage. Meanwhile, he uses those attributes to evade blockers as he looks to impose himself on the ground game.
Phillips also routinely showcases football intelligence. As a former WR, he demonstrates an understanding of route concepts and knows where to position himself to make a play on the ball. With the ball in front of him, the Utah CB also shows excellent play recognition, enabling him to make yardage-saving plays as demonstrated when sniffing out a dump-off to the running back against USC and snuffing it out for a one-yard gain.
Phillips’ areas of improvement
Although he’s showcased he can play bigger than his listed size, Phillips is likely to be viewed as undersized by the NFL. At under 5’10”, there is the potential for him to be pigeon-holed as a slot only CB at the next level, despite him having played almost exclusively outside during his Utah career.
Those concerns won’t be eased if they watch the Oregon 2021 game. While Phillips routinely plays the game with aggression and physicality, there were several examples of him being bullied by an Oregon WR. The Utah CB was simply shocked backward on contact and pushed to the ground.
Conversely, he needs to be mindful of not being too physical at the catch point. During the games studied, there was at least one example of a penalty flag thrown, ceding significant yardage.
While he showcases excellent football intelligence, there were some examples during the games studied where Phillips lost his man behind him while he was keeping an eye on the quarterback. The Utah CB has the intelligence to ensure that he irons out those plays from his game this season, but it’s something to be aware of as we conduct his early scouting report.
Current draft projection for Utah CB Clark Phillips III
While it’s early in the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, Phillips has the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Although he may be considered undersized for some NFL teams, the Utah CB has showcased that he can play outside CB or in the slot.
His athletic ability (with the fluidity to be sticky in man coverage), ball skills, and football intelligence combined with physicality, should make him an alluring prospect. Utah hasn’t had a first-round DB since 1971, but that should change with Phillips in the 2023 NFL Draft.