NFL teams value projection of prospects and athletic upside more than fans and NFL draft evaluators. Coaching staffs get involved in the process, and their confidence in their ability to develop prospects gets included in a player’s scouting report.
Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark has the body type, arm length and flashes that should make NFL offensive line coaches believers in his untapped potential. But despite the tools, the length and the upside, Clark deserves a big “buyer-beware” label for NFL teams based on his college film evaluation.
Why Scouts Are Salivating
In a vacuum, Le’Raven Clark offers everything you want in a left tackle prospect. His 36 1/8-inch arms are the longest of any offensive line prospect in the 2016 NFL draft.
His foot quickness allows him to kick slide at a high level and maintain natural balance, regardless of his positioning concerns. And based on his decision-making and ability to switch on stunt plays, he possesses the requisite football IQ.
And while we’ll dive into his woes on film later, it’s important to appreciate, as NFL teams do, how he’s been able to find success despite technical concerns. At the NFL level, form and technique doesn’t have to be perfect. Effectiveness, not perfection, is the goal for any blocker.
In the first play, notice how Clark is able to use his length to keep his rusher just enough away from the pocket to keep his quarterback clean despite lackluster footwork and initial hand placement.
But what really gets scouts excited is plays like the one above. While it’s a quick quarterback drop and Clark doesn’t get to highlight his lateral quickness and in-space athleticism, it does show that, when Clark is able to take the right steps, he can neutralize even the quickest of rushers.
Notice how Clark gathers his steps well as he slides, is perfectly positioned in his upper half and engages with strong and active hands to hold firm a highly aggressive LSU pass-rusher.
What The Film Really Shows
For all the excitement that Clark’s flashes and body type offer, the four-year starter’s lack of technical development should be highly worrisome. Clark has played left tackle for the Red Raiders every game for the last three seasons, yet he still consistently makes hand-positioning mistakes and doesn’t have a refined kick slide.
Part of that stifling of development is thanks to Texas Tech’s offense, which puts a focus on quick pass protection rather than NFL-level quarterback drops. Clark hasn’t received pro-style blocking experience, and the transition to the NFL may make a huge difference.
But that doesn’t account for all of his issues. For a three-year starter, Clark shouldn’t be as delayed in his initial rush reaction nor as clueless against refined rush moves as he is.
There are two plays together in the GIF below. The first shows Clark dreadfully late to react inside and is woefully out of position, and the second has Clark not bending against an edge-rusher with his hands greatly out of position. Both resulted in sacks for his quarterback against LSU.
And when it comes to protecting against high-level pass-rush moves, Clark doesn’t appear near an NFL starting-level pass-blocker.
In the play below, Clark set himself up for immediate failure by reaching too soon even though he had inside leverage already based on his positioning. He reached early, and a quick outside spin move easily got past him and forced a fourth down inside his team’s 20.
Where He Might Land During Draft Weekend
If I were in charge of an NFL front office, I’d pass on Le’Raven Clark in the top two rounds. The 2016 offensive tackle class offers as many as six NFL-ready offensive tackles. And although few have the same potential that Clark does, they should prove much more reliable early on in their careers.
That said, I’m not an NFL decision-maker. And based on recent draft history, such as the Arizona Cardinals' drafting of D.J. Humphries last year, NFL teams value long-term developmental offensive tackle prospects. Like Humphries, Clark may benefit from as much time off the field as possible early in his NFL career.
Le’Raven Clark is more of a promising projection rather than an early NFL contributor. While NFL coaching and development away from the Texas Tech offense may do wonders, his film indicates it’ll take time before he’s a trustworthy left tackle.
But that may not stop scouts and NFL decision-makers from falling in love with the untapped potential that Clark offers, and potentially still drafting him in the first round.