Over the last few weeks, we've been looking back at last year's rookies in an effort to assess what their role will be in 2018 and where we can expect them to make improvements on what they brought to the table last year.
Jeremy Clark spent virtually the entire 2017 on the injured list, which was something the Jets must have anticipated when they drafted him. Clark was recovering from a torn ACL when the Jets selected him in the sixth round, presumably on the basis that he'd have gone much sooner had he been healthy. He was unable to practice at training camp and his rookie season was essentially a redshirt year. However, the Jets were able to activate him at the end of the year and he made his NFL debut in the season finale.
Preseason Stats: Did not play.
Regular Season Stats: One game played.
Projected Role: Back-up cornerback.
There's not much we can glean from Clark's cameo appearance at the end of last season. He was only on the field for five special teams plays and the only meaningful contribution he made was to get flagged for an illegal block in the back penalty. However, the fact he was able to make it onto the field at all is a positive sign.
Essentially, though, 2018 can be considered as Clark's real rookie season. However, he has a major advantage over conventional rookies in that he was here last year, so he's had a major head start in terms of getting familiar with the playbook and learning about how to approach staying in shape on a day-to-day basis.
Clark applied for a sixth year of eligibility having missed parts of three different seasons due to injuries and would have returned to Michigan for the 2017 season if that had been granted. A successful year might have established him as an early-round pick, but the fact he wasn't activated until early December by the Jets suggests he probably wouldn't have been able to play a full season anyway. Clark was limited to just 16 starts over three seasons due to injuries with the Wolverines.
Aside from obviously proving he's healthy, we can revisit Clark's draft scouting reports and his collegiate film to determine what he can bring to the table and where he needs to make improvements. The main things that made him a draftable commodity were his measurables and his coverage numbers when playing cornerback at Michigan.
The first thing Clark needs to prove is that his athleticism hasn't been compromised by the injury. He couldn't work out at the combine, but reportedly ran a 4.43 40-yard dash while at Michigan.
If there's an area where he could improve on film, it's that he sometimes doesn't get his head turned in time to locate the ball. He can help himself by being effective with his jam in press coverage, which was something he was required to do a lot of in college. His closing speed, range and ball skills are also promising.
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Clark has the size to potentially convert to safety if things don't work out for him at the cornerback position. Should he fail to earn a roster spot this offseason, perhaps the Jets would put him on the practice squad and set about helping him to make that transition.
Clark started six games at safety with the Wolverines in 2014 before missing the rest of the year due to injury and then making the move to cornerback. However, he perhaps lacks the instincts and experience to be able to make such a transition successfully and his rare combination of length and athleticism is sure to tempt the team into focusing on grooming him to be a bump-and-run corner first.
Outlook: The whole point of drafting Clark was that the Jets were hoping to land themselves a legitimate defensive back prospect with a later pick and the assumption was always that it would be in his second season where he'd start realistically be able to start competing for a role. He's become a bit of a forgotten man in the eyes of fans and media, but it would be strange for the team to abandon that plan already, unless his performances in practice indicate that he has been unable to fully overcome the injury. The Jets have a slew of young players competing for a role on the outside and until one of them separates themselves from the pack, there's no reason why Clark shouldn't be able to get in the mix.