Utah Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III epitomizes the phrase, “It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” The Utah CB makes up for a lack of size with something that there isn’t an advanced metric for. His performances have made him an alluring 2023 NFL Draft prospect, but does Phillips’ scouting report measure up to expectation?
Clark Phillips III NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Utah
- Year: Junior
- Height/Weight: 5’9″, 184 pounds
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 cornerbacks for Utah as a true freshman in 2020 — including a standout game against Washington State where he secured his first pick-six.
After making an impact as a freshman, Phillips became Utah’s full-time starting CB in 2021, earning second-team All-Pac-12 recognition. His 13 pass deflections led the conference and included two interceptions, while he added another pick-six to his résumé. An impressive performance under the national spotlight in the Rose Bowl attracted national attention.
As a result, Phillips entered the 2022 college football season as a potential first-round 2023 cornerback. In the most productive season of his college career, Phillips consistently flashed his big-play skills, logging size interceptions with two returned for touchdowns. Then after earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors, Phillips declared for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Clark Phillips III Scouting Report
After a collegiate career spent dominating opposing wide receivers on the outside, Phillips should be considered one of the top cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft class. There are some concerns that could halt his ascent in a remarkably talented class at the position, but the strengths of Phillips’ scouting report really can’t be ignored when evaluating his next-level potential.
Size. You spend your whole life being told it doesn’t matter. Yet, when you’re an NFL Draft cornerback prospect, that’s all anyone wants to talk about. There’s no escaping Phillips’ diminutive height and below-requisite length. Yet, the Utah CB has spent the majority of his career playing outside and succeeding against some of the best in the business.
It will be easy to cast him purely in a slot role at the NFL level, but there’s every reason to believe that he translates his ability to defend the perimeter to the NFL level. Phillips plays bigger than his listed size, and his 5’9″, 184-pound frame is particularly muscular and built for the rigors of heightened physical conflict at the next level.
There are several 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 his physical cornerback demeanor has helped negate his size disadvantages and made him a highly productive NFL Draft cornerback prospect, Phillips’ past has helped dictate his future ability. The Utah CB is a former wide receiver who displays impressive ball skills, routinely disrupting the ball at the catch point with the ability to create turnovers with abandon. Here, his football intelligence and awareness shine through.
Phillips is a film-room junkie who regularly showcases his understanding of route concepts and where to position himself to increase his chances of making a successful play. Some CBs struggle to maintain a visual on the QB and WR route, but Phillips has no issues whatsoever in this regard.
Furthermore, his play-recognition skills against the run are extremely impressive. While Phillips’ scouting report strengths center predominantly on his impact in the passing game, the Utah cornerback’s ability to sniff out plays in the ground game and act on them with physicality and decisiveness add further value to his game — and NFL potential.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
As we’ll discuss towards the end of Phillips’ scouting report, the Utah CB struggled at the NFL Combine, posting testing numbers that have soured his stock in the eyes of some analysts. Once again, however, there’s an argument to be made that his on-field performances defy the quantifiable metrics of evaluation.
When you watch Phillips on film, he looks faster than his posted 40-yard dash time. He’s able to chase down ball carriers from behind, while rarely getting blown away in a straight line by even the speediest wide receivers that he’s faced during his Utah career.
Phillips pops on tape as it pertains to the more important elements of athletic performance at the cornerback position. He’s an explosive athlete with quick feet who is able to jump routes with his sudden burst. Meanwhile, he’s an extremely fluid mover who flips his hips smoothly and is able to transition from his backpedal exceptionally. He also flashes lateral agility when evading blockers to impact the ground game.
Areas of Improvement
Size doesn’t matter. Yet, for Phillips’ NFL projection, it may. He’s played outside for his entire CFB career, but Phillips’ 5’9″ height and sub-30″ arms will likely ensure he’s pigeon-holed as a slot-only cornerback at the NFL level.
There’s no shame in that, and he could have a long NFL career playing that role, but that limited element of versatility could impact how much draft capital an NFL team will use on him. It’s not an area of improvement, per se, but it’s something to be mindful of.
Those size concerns will be intensified by some games where Phillips is clearly physically mismatched. There are several exposures where he is manhandled with relative ease by bigger wide receivers despite the physicality and demeanor with which he plays the game.
Conversely, that physicality can bring its own issues. Phillips sometimes crosses over the line between aggression and recklessness, which will draw unnecessary penalties at the NFL level.
Although he’s an aggressive tackler who puts his all into every encounter, Phillips’ smaller frame and limited arm length do sometimes show up in this phase of the game. There’s a lack of consistency in his tackling success, despite the football intelligence to take the correct angles when defending the run.
Current Draft Projection for Utah CB Clark Phillips III
Utah hasn’t had a DB taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since 1971. Early in the 2023 cycle, it appeared that Phillips was almost guaranteed to end that drought for the Utes. While he once again had an impressively productive season, the concerns over his size and the competitive nature of this cornerback class might halt that ascent.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft CB Class
Let me be clear, in writing Phillips’ scouting report, I firmly believe he has the talent of a first-round prospect. His physical play style, on-tape athleticism, and football intelligence should translate to NFL success. However, size concerns that limit his usage projection may cause a slide into Day 2. There, an NFL team will pick up a multi-year starter at a bargain price.
Clark Phillips III Combine Measurements and Results
For a fluid coverage corner who displays exciting closing speed on the field, Phillips’ testing results at the NFL Combine were potentially detrimental to his stock in a deep cornerback class. As per Kent Lee Platte, the Utah standout was the only cornerback in Indianapolis to receive a Relative Athletic Score below 5.00.
- Wingspan: 70 3/4″
- Arm: 29 1/8″
- Hand: 9 1/8″
- Bench Press: 18 reps
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.51 seconds
- 10-Yard Split: 1.51 seconds
- Vertical Jump: 33″
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.32 seconds
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