By MICHAEL FAIRLIE //
There is no question that the New York Jets will have a tremendous hole in the middle of the defensive line if they are unable to come to an agreement on a new contract with Damon “Snacks” Harrison.
Should Harrison move on, simply placing a big body at the NT position is not going to provide a solution to the Jets problem. They are going to need to find a capable replacement if they plan on remaining in the Top 5 run defenses in the NFL in 2016.
Although the NT is commonly thought of as a space-eater that needs to do nothing more than occupy blockers, Snacks has meant much more than that to the Jets defense since he made his way into the starting lineup in 2013. In his three years as the team’s starter, Harrison has accumulated 193 combined tackles and 17 tackles for loss.
In the 2015 season alone, Damon accounted for 72 tackles, with 8 for a loss, a half sack and one forced fumble. Still his impact is not visible in his stats alone. A big part of the reason that the Jets finished second in the league in run defense during the 2015 season was that Harrison was an immovable force in the middle of the line.
In addition to taking up multiple blockers at a time, he has the pure strength, vision and lateral agility to shed blockers on his way to making tackles and single-handedly disrupting the flow of opponents’ offensive assaults at the point of attack. He moves extremely well for a 6’4, 350-pound behemoth and if the Jets are forced to replace him, it is going to be quite a difficult task.
If the Jets decide to attempt to fill that crater-sized void at NT in the 2016 NFL Draft, there are a limited amount of potential replacements expected to fit in as a 3-4 NT on the professional level. One option they can look into in the early part of the draft is UCLA junior defensive tackle, Kenny Clark.
Expected to be chosen anywhere between the bottom of the first round and the top of the third, the former Bruin recorded 75 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, six sacks and five passes batted in 2015. As a result of his exceptional performance during his junior year, he was a First-team All-Pac-12 Conference selection and named to the Third-team of the AP All-America Team list.
In his three years with the Bruins, two of which he served as a starter, Clark compiled 161 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and a forced fumble.
Most of his playing time during the last two seasons came at the nose tackle and one-technique defensive tackle positions, although he did play a little defensive end as well during his college career. While he seems to be most comfortable as a NT, Clark has the versatility to play across the line, in a variety of defensive fronts.
At 6’3, 310 pounds, Clark may not have the ideal size for a 3-4 NT at first glance, but he does possess tremendous power and his frame has room for some added weight, which he could work on in the weight room and at the buffet table prior to the start of the season. He is also only 20 years old, so it is quite possible that he is still growing.
Even if he stays at his current weight, he would not be the first guy that size to play the position on the NFL level. I am sure that a lot of Jets fans remember the name Jason Ferguson. At the same exact height and weight of Clark, he went on to have a pretty solid 13-year career as a NT in the league.
A formidable run defender, Clark combines his brute upper body strength with his low center of gravity and extremely powerful legs to bull his way through offensive lineman and take on double teams with authority. The proper use of leverage he learned in his experience as a high school wrestling champion also surely helps in his ability to win one-on-one battles against blocking lineman.
Blessed with a high football IQ and incredible instincts, Clark has a great nose for the ball and is quick to identify the direction that a running play is headed.
Despite all of his positive attributes against the run game, Clark might have to start out as a two-down defender until he refines his pass-rushing moves. That is not necessarily a negative in the case of the Jets, as they usually take the NT out in passing situations.
Even with Clark’s success against the run there is room for improvement when it comes to wrapping up the ball carrier, as he was charged with four broken tackles in his time with the Bruins.
Clark would definitely not be my first choice when it comes to the NT’s available in the draft, but depending on who gets chosen before him and how far he slips, he is certainly worth considering. I would probably go with A’Shawn Robinson, Austin Johnson and Vernon Butler before him, but Robinson is likely to go in the top 10 and the others may not be available wherever the Jets have them graded.
If Clark slips to the Jets pick at the bottom third of the second round, and they are still looking for a NT, he could be the guy if Johnson and Butler are gone.
You can read my Jets Pre-Combine Mock Draft article from 2/24/16 by clicking below:
You can read my article from 2/19/16 on NYJetsNews.Com about a few options for the Jets in the 1st Round of NFL Draft by clicking the following link: