Will Clarke has a similar long frame and the athleticism to eventually follow Michael Johnson's career path, but the most important thing at this stage is the patience the Cincinnati Bengals will be able to show with their 2014 third-round pick.
Johnson signed a five-year, $43.75 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency this year. He wasn't a highly efficient producer in terms of statistics, but he was a vitally important part of the team's defensive line. Johnson was able to consistently get pressure while being a very disciplined and strong run defender.
The Bengals seemingly anticipated Johnson's departure during last year's draft when they selected Margus Hunt. Hunt barely played as a rookie, as he primarily focused on developing his technique and speeding up the mental side of the game. The Bengals could afford not to play Hunt because they had two quality defensive ends ahead of him on the depth chart.
One of those defensive ends has departed, but Wallace Gilberry remains. He is an experienced, polished veteran who understands his role and is very effective in limited snaps. Those snaps will likely multiply this year, but not dramatically because Hunt will be expected to play more.
This sets up Clarke perfectly to only contribute when he is ready to contribute. As Darren Page of Bleacher Report notes, the West Virginia product has the tools to develop into what the Bengals want:
Will Clarke was one of the few bright spots on a porous West Virginia defense in 2013. His production doesn’t blow anyone away, but the attention he got has a lot to do with it. Projecting him to the NFL is relatively cut and dry. Clarke should be viewed as the type of end who can be developed into a rotational No. 3 edge-rusher who can platoon on the interior in a four-man front. It’s all about development of hand usage and maximizing his length and natural power.
Clarke's measurements immediately attract the eye. He is 6'6" and 271 pounds with very long arms. While he doesn't have great strength, he is strong enough and has the frame that suggests he could add weight and bulk up on a professional program.
Despite being so long, Clarke is also an impressive mover.
He can comfortably slice through space in the line of scrimmage and redirect to chase down running backs or quarterbacks working to the other side of the field. Effort isn't a concern with Clarke, and he appears to be a player who will develop as he receives more opportunities.
He holds up relatively well against the run for a player of his height and shows a good anchor to hold off blockers to keep his eyes on the football.
Clarke's production wasn't a positive, but it shouldn't be viewed as a negative either because, as Page noted, he was the focal point of the opposing offense on a regular basis. Clarke will feel familiar to the Bengals because he does fit that Michael Johnson mold.
At 23 years of age, Clarke isn't exceptionally young for a developmental prospect.
While he is very big and he does show decent strength, his size and build suggests that he should be much more effective with his power. Unsurprisingly, he often plays too tall, which will expose him to quick cut blocks by better athletes on the next level.
He doesn't have a range of pass-rushing moves or the overwhelming speed to escape around the edge consistently, but coaching can help him here.
Most importantly, Clarke needs to be taught how to use his positive attributes to beat blockers instead of allowing them to turn his strengths against him. That starts with hand usage. With the length of his arms, Clarke can be a very good bull rusher or someone who throws offensive tackles around in space.
However he needs to develop an understanding of how to get his hands in the right spots to control blockers.
Clarke is the perfect pick for the Bengals. He will be developed by a good coaching staff and should be a part of their rotation on the right side of their defensive line over the coming seasons. He and Margus Hunt will could overwhelm offensive tackles while sharing snaps for years to come.