Kenny Clark will bring an "attack mentality" to a Green Bay Packers defensive line that entered the first round of Thursday's NFL draft woefully short on quality performers.
The Packers used their first-round pick on Clark, a defensive tackle from UCLA, on Thursday night.
“Man, it was just so exciting,” he said while surrounded by about 300 friends and family in his hometown of San Bernardino, Calif. “To go to the Packers, this historic franchise, man, it’s amazing. It’s a wonderful feeling for me and my family.”
Clark, a true junior, was a two-year starter who was first-team all-Pac-12 and earned some All-America recognition this past season. According to stats from STATS, Clark set career highs with 73 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 11 tackles for losses and five passes defensed. Only Oregon’s DeForest Buckner and Penn State’s Austin Johnson had more tackles and only Baylor’s Andrew Billings and Florida’s Jonathan Bullard had more run disruptions than Clark’s 43.
Clark, a co-captain despite his youth, immediately bolsters a defensive line that lost B.J. Raji, who decided not to play in 2016, and Mike Pennel, who will miss the first four games due to a suspension.
“I was aware of what happened and I was aware of the situation,” said Clark, who had a formal interview with the Packers at the Scouting Combine. That (doesn't take away) from the fact that I still need to come out there, I need to work hard. I need to come in there, look at those leaders on the team, look at those guys on the team, and soak that in. And really just take advantage of the great players that are there on the team and really just soak in their leadership, soak in how they play, and play that style of their defense.”
Clark measured in at 6-foot-2 5/8 and 314 pounds at the Scouting Combine. He offers a nice blend of athleticism (5.06 in the 40-yard dash) and power (29 reps on the bench press). He appears to be a player on the rise after he had one sack as a freshman and none as a sophomore. General manager Ted Thompson wouldn't say where Clark would line up in the base 3-4 defense but he should factor immediately at tackle in the nickel package. Thompson did say he thought Clark could contribute as an interior rusher on passing downs.
With cornerbacks and wide receivers taking center stage as the Packers’ pick approached, Thompson had an unbelievable list of players to choose from after Denver traded up to No. 26 to get quarterback Paxton Lynch: inside linebackers Reggie Ragland and Myles Jack and defensive linemen A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Vernon Butler, Clark and Billings. Thompson held pat, taking advantage of one of the deepest defensive line drafts in history to fill an immediate need.
"There’s all different kind of scenarios that you look at," Thompson said. "People call about trade possibilities or trade scenarios, you look at it and try and see who’s left there. We felt very comfortable when it looked like we were going to be able to zero in on Kenny when we felt like that was where we wanted to be."
With the holes up front, Thompson agreed that there “theoretically” was a hole to be filled on the defensive line but maintained this was about picking the best player available. Still, as the names fell by the wayside, Thompson was hopeful that Clark would fall to Green Bay’s spot.
“You sit there for two hours and you don’t even want to look at the names because you think they’re going to jinx something,” Thompson said. “But then as you started getting closer, you look up there and go, ‘Wouldn’t that be nice,’ but I can’t talk about it and I never mention it to anybody else in the room, you don’t want to jinx yourself and all that. It’s silly.”
Clark is a key addition to the defense but there's work to be done for Thompson, starting with the second and third rounds on Friday. The defensive line remains thin, inside linebacker could use an immediate contributor, and there could be long-term needs at outside linebacker and guard, depending on what happens with upcoming free agents.
"We’re glad we drafted the young man we did today," Thompson said. "We think that’s a good start to this draft."
It marked the fifth consecutive season in which the Packers used their top pick on a defensive player. In four of those seasons, the player came from the Pac-12, including UCLA's Datone Jones in 2013.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.