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Clark Phillips III draft profile

Let's look at another prime candidate for the Rams in the 2nd round. We already did Van Ness, an edge rusher ranked 22nd on ESPN's board. The next highest prospect mentioned on TST would be Antonio Johnson, who is projected to be either a safety or a nickel cornerback in the NFL. He's ranked 25th overall. He's listed by ESPN as the 2nd best safety in the draft, just behind Brian Branch of Alabama. Johnson is the 14th best prospect on the CBSSports draft board. I might do Johnson later, but I'm skipping him for now, just because he seems to be ranked just a bit too high to make it all the way to the Rams.

Instead, I decided to go with Utah cornerback, Clark Phillips III. The main reason I don't expect him to get drafted super high is that Phillips is a small CB. Many draft boards list him as a nickel CB, not as an outside CB.

Phillips is a difficult player to grade. Last year, I was expecting Cobie Durant to be about a 6th round pick. I thought he was one of the better "late round" CB prospects. Instead, the Rams drafted him with one of the last picks in the 4th round, in the compensatory section. If we compared Durant to Phillips head to head, I think there is at least a reasonable argument that Cobie Durant is actually a better prospect than Phillips. So, why would Phillips be ranked as a 1st round draft prospect if Durant was drafted at the very end of the 4th round?

If you don't remember my profile on Durant, I'll summarize the key points (keep them in mind when we list the play traits for Phillips):

1. Ranked 7th rd to UDFA on most draft boards. Zierlein had him 6th rd. Steelers Depot (which does some excellent scouting reports) had him as a 3rd rd prospect.

2. Ball hawk

3. Ran 4.38 sec in the 40. Explosive speed.

4. Played primarily outside CB in college, but profiles as a slot CB in the pros.

5. Can play press man.

6. Poor tackler. Passive defending the run.

7. A bit raw in route recognition, communicating on defense and with technique. High ceiling, but low floor.

Durant flashed playmaking ability as a rookie. He had a 73.3 PFF grade and had 3 INTs. Durant didn't play enough snaps to qualify for the rankings, but this is how his grade compares to other top rookie CBs:

Trent McDuffie (21st overall pick) 73.6

Kaiir Elam (23rd overall pick) 56.7

Dax Hill (31st overall) 58.1

Roger McCreary (35th overall) 62.6

Kyler Gordon (39th overall) 49.9

Andrew Booth (42nd overall) 45.3

Cobie Durant (late 4th round) 73.3

So, which guy is the 1st round talent and which guy is the 4th to 5th round prospect? Not easy to tell after year 1 in the NFL. I liked almost all of those players. Dax Hill was hardly used most of his rookie year, stuck on the bench. Elam wasn't as impactful as I was expecting. So, I was pretty surprised some of those players had quiet rookie years.

On the Rams, Phillips probably would be redundant with Durant, but that depends on whether you think either of those CBs can play as an "outside CB" (these days, the distinction between slot and outside might not be as important as it once was) so that they could be on the field at the same time. It also depends on what type of scheme the Rams use. Durant is a ball hawk who is good in zone reading the QB and driving on routes. Phillips is exactly the same type of CB. Rams fans complained about the "soft zone" coverage the Rams employed in 2022, but if your CBs are really good ball hawks, suddenly playing off can turn from being "soft" to being tough.

Phillips is also similar to Darious Williams. After a breakout 2020 season with the Rams (80 PFF and 4 INTs), Williams has fallen off the last couple of years. He has zero INTs since 2020, though he did have a career high 16 PDs with the Jags in 2022, with a 61.4 PFF grade. Darious Williams is only 5'9 5/8'' tall, so it is possible to be short and still play outside CB in the NFL.

One draft expert compared Phillips to Denzel Ward, who was the 4th overall pick in 2018. Ward struggled in 2022 (56.8 PFF), but prior to this year was a very solid CB. Ward had a concussion this year, missed a bunch of tackles, had communication issues with other DBs and gave up too many completions. It was the worst season of his career, a disappointment to the Browns since he has such an expensive contract.

That's why I really struggled with how to evaluate Phillips. Is he a better version of Darious Williams, worth drafting very early in the draft, or is he an inferior version of Cobie Durant and only belongs in the later rounds?

Background

Name: Clark Phillips III. True junior, turns 22 years old next December.

School: Utah. Studied business administration.

Size: Listed 5'10'' tall, 183 pounds.

From Lakewood, CA. The 4th best CB recruit in the country. Originally Ohio State commit, but flipped to Utah after Jeff Hafley (Jordan Fuller's DB coach at OSU) left to coach at Boston College. Started nearly every game he was at Utah, even as a true freshman. Skipped team's bowl game to focus on draft.

2020 (5 starts) 25 tackles, 3 PD, INT

2021 (14 starts) 63 tackles, 15 PD, 2 FF, 2 INTs

2022 (12 starts) 24 tackles, 1 sack, 12 PD, 6 INTs

Conference defensive POY in 2022. I was unable to find any info about major injuries with Phillips.

ESPN 5th CB, 30th overall prospect (late 1st)

CBSSports 6th CB, 32nd overall (early 2nd)

PFF 6th CB, 36th overall (early 2nd)

Drafttek best nickel CB, 17th overall (1st round)

Draftcountdown 5th CB, 29th overall (1st rd)

PFN best nickel CB, 27th overall (late 1st rd)

NFLDB 6th CB, 32nd overall (early 2nd rd)

Joe Marino for TDN says he's an explosive athlete, fluid change of direction, disruptive at the catch point, exceptional ball skills. Majority of his snaps were as an outside CB. Competitive toughness and spirit, willing to come downhill and battle. "He's a dog!" Limited size, length and weight. Excels most in man coverage, but can play in any scheme. A starting outside CB. NFL comp is Denzel Ward. 2nd round grade.

NFLDB says he has excellent change of direction, good top end speed, quickness to mirror. Fits best in zone scheme. Good ball skills. QBs can exploit his aggression. Shaky in press coverage. Unsure of self transitioning out of backpedal. Inconsistent getting off blocks.

Drafttek says he has anticipation and instincts to jump short throws. Terrific reaction time and instant acceleration. No issues flipping hips. Sticky at top of routes. Physical at catch point without penalties. Extensive special teams experience. Missed tackles are a concern, not a contributor in run defense. Needs more urgency following players in motion across the formation. Sometimes too aggressive and surrenders deep throws, vulnerable to double moves or losing leverage. Had limited reps in press coverage. Made body catches instead of with hands. Held his own against Drake London and against Ohio State in 2021. Struggled against Jordan Addison. A lock to be a top 50 pick, has back end of 1st round talent. A combination of Andrew Booth and Roger McCreary.

Strengths

Outstanding spatial awareness. Doesn't collide with other defenders when they cross in pass coverage or when he's following a WR going in motion.

Elite short area burst. Can drive on routes, fly up in support to the flat or even blitz the pocket from off the edge. Explosive trigger to click and close. Dangerous closing ability to jump passing windows when in zone coverage. Read a WR screen and blew it up.

Athleticism to mirror releases off the LOS. Moves in space with good balance and low hands, able to mirror against quickness and juke moves. Fluidly changes hip angle so that he can carry routes on play action bootleg passes and still change direction and come off his guy to react to underneath activity in front of him. Can transition from pedal to make square turn to follow the WR running horizontally across the middle of the field. Balanced in his stance when working in the slot. Speed to carry over routes all the way across the field. Smothered an out and up route.

Attention to detail in executing his assignments. When tasked with inverted coverage, takes proper angle to replace the deep safety. Takes sound angles towards runners. When he's on the far side of the field well away from the action, takes conservative angle to drop deep, just in case the runner breaks free from the crowd and gets into open field. Understands edge containment responsibilities.

Turns and tries to find ball in the air with his eyes. Times his challenges appropriately. Doesn't just clumsily crash into the WR or panic and commit silly and unnecessary PI penalties.

Won't back down from physical challenges, not afraid of contact, has an aggressive mentality on the field. Will battle against WR blocks. Will attack downhill towards the LOS by running by WR blocks. Knocked WR on his back, then made tackle against swing pass.

While he's not a great tackler, I do think he has the ability to be a solid special teams contributor on multiple units, which is an important factor even if he's just a backup CB.

Even though he only has one career sack, it was an impressive sack. If used in the slot, he could be a dangerous blitzer, despite being so small.

Getting INTs is important in the NFL and Phillips has legitimate ball hawking skills. He also has the burst to turn picks into defensive TDs.

Early entrant who is a year younger than an average prospect. Not injury prone in college.

Weaknesses

His highlight video is better than the actual game tape.

Being so small, with limited length and play strength is a huge problem. Repeatedly misses tackles due to short arms. When the WR stiff arms him, he can't even grab the WR, his arms are so short. Even if he's in great position in coverage in the hip of the WR, a good throw from the QB beats him, because he doesn't have enough length to contest the catch point or pull down the WR's arm. Comes up with empty air trying to trip or grab legs of runners. Consistently will miss the tackle in 1 vs 1 situations or out in space. His "tackling cone" to get square to the runner is so small, he sometimes has to reach out and try to grab the runner high around the shoulder pads with wild and easily broken grabs. Unable to hold the point of attack on run plays, gives up ground.

Easily defeated at the top of the route by bigger or physical WRs. They can push him away and discard him. Against double move, he tried to desperately grab the WR, but the WR shoves him and the CB slides off, falling down, resulting in a huge gain with the WR wide open way down the field. Trying to jam the WR, the WR shoves the CB to the ground and is wide open. Tries to put hands on WR at top of route, the CB slips and falls down.

Has sufficient aggression, but he's way too small and underpowered to be effective in support. Easily pushed out wide by WR blocks, taken out of plays and unable to help in run support. Physically overmatched even at the college level. Way too small to cover big TEs in the NFL.

Bites on good fakes. against pivot route, resorted to grabbing the WR to avoid giving up TD. As slot CB, opened his hips to the outside against a juke move, losing inside leverage. Fake to inside made him sit in stance, forcing him to have to recover. Bites on juke move by TE, leaving the TE wide open on slant route for a TD.

Commits mental errors. Slow communicating with other players in defensive secondary. Overreacted to play fake, allowed TE coming across formation to be wide open in the flat for an easy pass. Blew coverage, allowing WR to be wide open in end zone.

Wants to feel the location of the WR by putting his hands on them, both at break point and when they get on top of him on deep vertical routes. Not composed enough to just run with them, he'll reach out with his near hand and try to tug on them or he'll lean forward and put 2 hands on the WR, causing him to lose balance. Appeared to grab the back of the WR's jersey on short route.

Since he's so small, he has to take small steps. I feel this limits his ability to cover ground efficiently when he's in a backpedal or moving laterally. Seems to me he's way fast running directly forward compared to moving in other directions.

Draft Grade and Pro Comp

3rd round grade. Asante Samuel Jr. (2nd round 2021, Chargers, FSU)

I'll give Phillips exactly the same grade I gave to Asante Samuel Jr. back in 2021. In the draft, ASJ was taken in the middle of the 2nd round (47th overall).

On the other hand, David Long Jr. was a middle of the 3rd round pick by the Rams in 2019 and without the benefit of hindsight, if Long and Phillips were in the same draft, I'd probably go with Long over Phillips. Long is intelligent, he had outstanding testing numbers, including elite agility scores, and at Michigan Long showed good ability to jam the WR at the LOS and be physical at the top of routes. Long also was 5'11'' tall, so he'll likely measure taller than Phillips.

If ASJ had slipped and the Rams had taken him instead of Tutu Atwell in the 2nd round, he very likely would have been a starting CB for the Rams in 2022. Against the Jags in the playoff game, ASJ had 3 INTs off of Trevor Lawrence. On the other hand, if we go off of PFF grades, ASJ's 2022 season was slightly worse than the supposedly disappointing year Darious Williams had in 2021. Is it really worth it to the Rams to take Phillips in the 2nd round if he only plays like the 2021 version of Darious Williams?

Phillips is ranked as a 1st round prospect on most boards, so he likely would be one of the top BPAs if he were still on the board for the Rams. Despite those high rankings, I'm not super excited about him. I just think he's too small of a player.