The word “range” gets thrown around a lot when talking about linebackers. But this is a linebacker who without a doubt has range. With his scouting report, LSU LB Damone Clark has garnered early-round NFL Draft buzz in some camps. But does the 2021 Butkus Award finalist have what it takes to make that projection a reality?
Damone Clark NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Linebacker
- School: LSU
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’4 1/4″
- Weight: 239 pounds
- Wingspan: 78 1/8″
- Length: 32 7/8″
- Hand: 9 7/8″
Damone Clark Scouting Report
No one should be in the business of diminishing one stellar player to lift up another. There’s no disputing that Nakobe Dean had a season worthy of the Butkus Award. And there’s no disputing that Dean is a legitimate LB1 contender in the 2022 NFL Draft. But there’s a reason Clark was a finalist, and there’s a real case to be made that he could have won.
Regardless, there’s no reason to get hung up on Clark losing the award, because he’ll likely be a winner this coming April. Clark’s 2021 tape was his best work yet, and he has the tools to crush athletic testing, as well as show out at the Senior Bowl. The stars are aligning for Clark to potentially challenge for an early-round pick, and the tape confirms — he’s got what it takes.
Damone Clark’s athletic profile
Every year, we see players buoyed by their athletic testing. Clark will be one of those players. Athletic testing is going to be very kind to the LSU LB, and his film makes that clear. Clark has an NFL-ready frame at 6’4″, 240 pounds. Within that frame, he has excellent athleticism to boast.
Clark is explosive out of his stance, and he accelerates quickly in the open field. Clark has rare short-range burst, erasing space and rapidly close ground on ball carriers. His lateral burst is impressive, too. Clark can spring into lanes and explode into contact. He also carries great speed and range in pursuit, including running down players from behind. Clark’s range enables him to spy athletic QBs and eliminate scrambling opportunities outside as well.
In addition to his burst and range, Clark also displays good lateral mobility. He has quick, active feet, and his loose hips allow him to traverse gaps quickly. Clark can flip his hips and run with tight ends up the seam. When he has to read the quarterback’s eyes, he has active footwork in space as well.
Clark has more than enough athleticism to shade out into the slot and cover move tight ends. He also recognizes and quickly closes in on swing routes out of the backfield.
Execution beyond the physical traits
Clark’s athleticism provides an exciting foundation, but especially in 2021, he displayed operational growth. His run defense seemed to improve throughout the year. Clark flashed the ability to process and recognize plays and flows to the ball with urgency. He’s shown to surge through congestion and wall off runners from cutting upfield. Moreover, he flashes match and attack skills. He can follow RBs to the hole, engage blockers, and disrupt plays.
Moving forward with Clark’s run defense, the LSU LB showed better examples of stack and shed later in the year. He is strong enough to engage blockers and break anchors, and he’s a fairly sound tackler as well. Clark squares up and wraps as a tackler, and he’s also a physical finisher. It also helps that he uses great natural throttle control when tracking plays. He can explode and halt in tight spaces, using micro-movements to maintain leverage.
In the passing phase, Clark also shows promise. The LSU LB has shown he’s able to read route concepts, communicate in real-time, and pass off receivers to teammates in zone. He keeps his eyes forward on his backpedal and surveys plays as routes develop. Although he can progress more as a playmaker in coverage, the tools are there for Clark to be a great matchup for tight ends and running backs.
Moreover, Clark provides value as a blitzer, too. He has pass-rushing upside with his burst and strength and has shown he can use a bull rush. He can also explode up the A gap and prevent quarterbacks from stepping up. Additionally, Clark has great instincts as a delayed blitzer. He sneaks past blocks and explodes into contact.
Areas for improvement
Most notably, Clark is still developing in the finer parts of the game at the linebacker position. He flashes instincts and processing ability, but he can be more consistent using his eyes. Clark is often led astray by misdirections and plays himself out of position as a result. He needs to work on being more patient when reading plays, maintaining his positioning. He works forward too quickly on plays and can open up space for runners to take flight, or expose himself to seals as runs go outside.
Going further, Clark can lose track of the ball during misdirections and wander on plays. At times, he also chooses to engage blockers rather than contain nearby runners. Although strong, there are times when Clark struggles to disengage and overpursues tackling angles, playing himself out of leverage. In these situations, Clark can get flat-footed. He can also be a little stiff and upright when trying to change directions without losing speed.
Clark can further develop his game in coverage as well. The LSU LB sometimes freezes when reading the QB’s eyes, allowing cushion on routes. His coverage technique can also be inconsistent. He’ll sometimes take his eyes off the QB and turn his back to the passer and the ball, putting himself at a disadvantage.
Clark also gets grabby when trying to stick to receivers over the middle at times. He can take better angles upfield when engaging pass catchers. Furthermore, he can be more anticipatory at times and account for run-after-catch yards. Additionally, he is sometimes a tick late flipping his hips to follow plays outside. Among other things, Clark can get knocked back by larger blockers in space. He can also stand to further develop his pass-rushing arsenal on the blitz.
Damone Clark’s 2022 NFL Draft scouting report overview
Athletically, Clark checks a lot of boxes. He is explosive, rangy, and flashes the agility to use micro-movements in congestion. He’s also large for his position at 6’3″, 240 pounds, and strong enough to engage blockers and make solo stops. Tackling is a strength for Clark, and save for the occasional suspect angle, he fares well in that department.
Clark’s athleticism affords him a very high ceiling, but the LSU LB still has things to work on. His processing can be more consistent, and in the NFL, he’ll need to do a better job of keeping his eyes on the ball. Misdirections easily misled Clark at times in college, and in the faster-paced NFL, that problem could be compounded. When he knows where the play is going, Clark has shown to capitalize. But early on in reps, if he doesn’t position himself correctly, it can lead to big plays for the offense.
Clark has shown he can process and react quickly once he recognizes plays. It’s just a matter of sifting through the eye candy, staying disciplined, and following the ball. Once Clark improves there, he has the style and communication ability to develop into a potential MIKE or 3-4 ILB at the NFL level. And if he doesn’t see the requisite development there, he still translates well as a WILL or SAM, where his processing skills can be buoyed to an extent by a more reactive, versatile role.
Whatever the case, Clark has the talent to be a potential NFL starter, as well as a top-75 pick. If he can use the Senior Bowl and athletic testing to his advantage, he could be one of the first five linebackers selected.
Clark’s Player Profile
Clark is living, breathing proof of the importance of athletic training regimens in college. Out of high school, Clark — a three-star recruit — tested with a mere 4.98 40-yard dash and a 31.6-inch vertical. Fast forward to 2021, and Clark cracked the most recent Feldman’s Freaks list with a 4.5 40-yard dash, a 605-pound squat, and 10% body fat at 6’3″, 240 pounds.
Clark has reinvented himself over the course of his collegiate career, but make no mistake — this change is as much about Clark as it is about his training program. All the LSU LB needed was an opportunity to grow and improve as a football player. Several schools — among them Florida, Mississippi State, and Miami — were willing to give him that opportunity. But being from Baton Rouge, LSU was always the top team on Clark’s list.
Clark’s career at LSU
Clark developed over his first three years with LSU, but no season compared to his 2021 campaign. He barely played as a true freshman and only started three of 15 games as a true sophomore. In 2020, Clark started five of 10 games and earned a career-high mark in total tackles. But his 2021 season would put everything else to shame.
In his first three collegiate campaigns, Clark put up 113 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He’d surpass all of those figures in 2021 alone. Now a full-time starter, Clark flew around week in and week out for the Tigers defense. He amassed 135 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, an interception, 3 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.
Clark earned All-SEC and All-American honors for his play, and he was also named a finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s best linebacker. Named among stars like Dean, Devin Lloyd, Chad Muma, Leo Chenal, and Darrian Beavers, Clark had officially announced himself as one of the best defenders in the country.
Clark’s NFL Draft ascension
Clark comfortably worked his way into the Day 2 conversation with his 2021 season. He took a noticeable step up mentally, and he’s proven he can effectively use conditioning and training to maximize his physical traits. That work off the field won’t go unnoticed in the scouting process.
As mentioned earlier, the offseason holds the key to rising up the board for Clark. If he can make use of his opportunity at the Senior Bowl, and if he can test through the roof as expected, there’s a chance the LSU LB could challenge for a top-50 pick.
Tony Pauline’s scouting report for Damone Clark
Positives: Athletic linebacker who flashes playmaking ability. Displays outstanding range, quickly gets out to the sidelines, and cuts off the corners from ball handlers. Fluid moving laterally in pursuit, easily changes direction, and uses his hands to protect himself and slide off blocks. Breaks down well, shows a tremendous closing burst, and plays to his 40 time. Wraps up tackling.
Negatives: Inconsistent if not questionable instincts. Inefficient and does not always take proper angles to the action. Not a stout tackler and has running backs picking up yardage off initial contact.
Analysis: Clark has been a legitimate linebacker prospect since his sophomore season of 2018 and has the athleticism to start at the next level. That being the case, his instincts are a concern for me and may limit the types of schemes he will be productive in.