The Cowboys saw multiple draft picks outplay their draft slot last season. Jake Ferguson, PFF’s second rated rookie tight end, blew his fourth round status out of the water with his play. Cornerback DaRon Bland was nothing short of theft at pick No. 167. But years down the road, Damone Clark might go down as the ultimate steal of Dallas’ 2022 draft class.
Clark, a former LSU No. 19 (a jersey number reserved for standout players and leaders) bearer, had a frightening path to the NFL. The Tigers linebacker was expected to go early in the draft but a red flag was raised during the scouting combine’s medical checks, putting his entire NFL future at risk.
An MRI showed Clark had a herniated disk that would require fusion surgery. Coincidently, the doctor who discovered it was Dr. Andrew Clavenna, a Cowboys team physician.
Not surprisingly, this issue caused Clark to fall in the draft. Dallas was thrilled to pounce at No. 176, even if it required a bit of patience with his recovery. While some draft outlets were predicting a full year recovery for the fifth-round pick, the Cowboys never backed off their expectations that he would play as a rookie.
In Week 8, Clark made his Dallas debut, logging 40 defensive snaps right out of the gate. He would go on to play 398 defensive snaps for the season (35%) his first year in the pros, blowing many rookie year projections out of the water.
Clark wasn’t flawless in his play and made typical rookie mistakes in reads and run fits. But he didn’t log a single missed tackle (per PFR) and showed he can be a reliable player to build a unit around. At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds with speed, strength, and length, he has all the tangible traits to one day be elite in the NFL.
Damone Clark is a LB prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.87 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 33 out of 2419 LB from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/mFEUBQ9wLg #RAS pic.twitter.com/cKQpUHp89T
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 27, 2022
In his first year, Clark’s coverage was a concern. He gave up 13 receptions on 15 targets, good for an 86.7 completion percentage and a 138.5 passer rating when targeted. For comparison sake, only one season in Leighton Vander Esch’s five-year career did he give up an average passer rating over 100.
Yet Clark showed promise in all areas and ranked 37 among 81 graded linebackers from Pro Football Focus (their highest rated rookie LB in the class).
With Vander Esch set to hit free agency, the future of the position group is up in the air. Regardless, Clark figures to have a prominent role as top-two linebacker on the Cowboys and a player who’s only scratched the surface on his immense potential.
This content was originally published here.