DALLAS — The Dallas Cowboys saw what defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was able to do with rookie linebackers Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox last season.
What if they gave him another rookie linebacker in 2022, especially one that was teammates with Cox at LSU?
The Cowboys' selection of Clark with the No. 176 pick in Round 5 of the 2022 NFL draft represents a youth movement among the linebacking corps. Leighton Vander Esch came back, but essentially his future in Dallas is on a year to year basis. Luke Gifford is a solid special teamer, but it would behoove Dallas' roster to have a younger player executing those functions while also developing into a starter.
Clark was all over the place for the Bayou Bengals in 2021, as he collected 135 combined tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, an interception, three pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery through 12 games. Clark finished as a finalist for the Dick Butkus Award in 2021. The 2021 first-team All-SEC performer led his conference with 135 tackles and averaged 11.2 tackles per game.
Were it not for spinal fusion surgery that he underwent in March, Clark likely would have gone much higher in the draft. That injury is likely to sideline him for much of the 2022 season but, If nothing else, the 6’3”, 240-pounder will be learning from the Defensive Rookie of the Year while he works his way back.
Clark and Cox stand to act as insurance policies for each other as Cox himself is coming off an ACL tear. Although ACL injuries aren't as debilitating as what they used to be decades ago, it typically takes a year for the player to be at full strength. Eventually the idea is to have Clark take reps in a no-pressure situation as the Cowboys continue to add munitions to their linebacking corps.
If Clark or Cox return with the same prowess, it would allow Quinn to use a standard linebacker to take those duties off of Parsons’ plate. The best role for Parsons is as a utility defender who can infuse playmaking where needed.
If Parsons is needed as a pass rusher, a starter-level linebacker will need to take his spot for a while. If Parsons needs to be a linebacker to cover threats out of the backfield, then a quality edge rusher needs to be able to create pressure plays in the meantime. Assuming a successful rehab, Clark can eventually help out with the linebacking aspect.
Overall Clark fits the profile of what Dallas has been trying to do throughout this draft of providing the team with a talent that can develop into a quality starter at some point during his rookie contract.
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