From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling Utah CB Clark Phillips
Clark Phillips III #1/CB Utah 5’10” 183
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Clark Phillips||5100, 183||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Plays with solid patience and good pad-level in off-coverage, has a nice sink and drive motion in his breaks
— Efficiently breaks from his T-step
— Does a nice job of coming to balance and breaking down when approaching ball carriers in open space
— Breaks well from a crossover run, making him extremely effective in zone coverage
— Plays with naturally low pad level, allowing to change direction fluidly and efficiently
— Great trigger vs WR screen game, does a nice job of slipping blocks in space
— Has shown nice fluidity in his speed turn, allowing him to recovery easily when beaten across his face
— Has both slot and boundary experience entering the NFL
— Played in Invert coverage schemes at Utah, a system which Pittsburgh features in their defense
— Can effectively play from press coverage alignments both in the slot and on the boundary
— Great instincts in off-man coverage, reads quarterbacks drop and keys for quick game, aggressive in jumping routes
— Generates takeaways at an impressive rate, looking to secure turnovers at every opportunity
— Elite ball skills, does an outstanding job of leaning on receivers downfield and high pointing the football to mitigate size disadvantages
— Finishes through receivers hands with violent punches when closing from out of phase, producing plenty of pass breakups
— Lacks ideal play strength, tends to slip off tackles at times
— Needs to wrap up more consistently as a tackler, misses far too often in the open field
— Fights and effort are there, but struggles to get off blocks at times
— Can struggle to contest at the catch point against larger framed receivers
— Inconsistent effort as a tackler, talent and ability is all there, but snap to snap consistency needs to improve
— 112 tackles 5 TFLs 1 sack 2 FFs 1 FR 9 INTs 30 PDs 4 TDs
— 2022: 24 tackles 2 TFLs 1 sack 6 INTs 12 PDs 2 TDs
— Holds Utah school record for pick sixes with four
— Started all 31 games that he played in his Utah career
— 2022 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year
— 2022 Unanimous All-American
— 2022 Finalist for Thorpe Award/Semifinalist for the Bednarik Award
— Fourth in Utah history INT return yards (232) and 10th in PBUs (21)
In two seasons since the departure of Mike Hilton, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive staff has found themselves undertaking a moneyball style approach in replacing current Cincinnati Bengals every down production, assigning slot snaps between multiple different players in various different roles.
In Arthur Maulet, Pittsburgh has addressed much of what they lost in Mike Hilton’s penetrating run defense and blitzing from the slot on pass downs, with lackluster man coverage ability forcing them to look elsewhere on passing downs. In Cameron Sutton, Pittsburgh finds themselves able to field a far more competent and versatile coverage player, equally capable in both man and zone assignments, than was ever seen in Hilton’s time in Pittsburgh. That being said, as Sutton has continued to distinguish himself as Pittsburgh’s premier option on the boundary, the team may inevitably find themselves once again in the market for a capable, every down slot defender.
Enter Clark Phillips III, an underclassmen declared hailing from Utah, where he started all 31 games in which he appeared for the Utes, culminating in a breakout 2022 season, in which he tallied six interceptions, 12 passes defended, and a pair of pick sixes, enough to earn him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors to go along with Unanimous All-American honors. Splitting time between the slot and the boundary, Phillips III enters the NFL with an appealing skillset built around versatility and a knack for generating takeaways. If Pittsburgh is indeed in the market for a slot defender as one might presume, Utah’s Clark Phillips III is among the top options they will be sure to evaluate, presenting a seamless fit into Teryl Austin’s takeaway oriented defensive mindset.
Naturally as a smaller framed player, scouts and talent evaluators are sure to present questions regarding Phillips III’s ability to handle matchups against larger framed players. Nonetheless, despite lacking size, the Utah product does a phenomenal job of using consistent and high-level technique to squeeze larger framed receivers downfield, mitigating their size advantage and allowing him to highpoint the football to secure turnovers.
On the rep below, from a 2022 Rose Bowl matchup against the Ohio State Buckeyes, a game in which Phillips III dominated, he works from a press bail technique, staying disciplined through a stutter-go double move, and staying on top of the receiver with vision on the quarterback. As the ball arrives, Clark Phillips III successfully squeezes the receiver into the sideline, allowing himself to high point the football for an uncontested interception.
More on that turnover oriented mindset, earlier in the same game, Phillips III, working as a deep ⅓ defender in a Cover 3 scheme, is late to overlap the seam, where an untouched Jaxon Smith-Njigba found space for plenty of yards after the catch. Trailing the back hip, Phillips III hawks the talented Buckeye receiver, catching him at the ten yard line and delivering pinpoint placement on the peanut punch, poking the football loose into the end zone, where it would be recovered by his Utah teammate for a touchback. Through supreme effort and a unique, turnover oriented mindset, Clark Phillips III was able to turn a potential explosive play touchdown into a crippling turnover for the Buckeye offense.
While no longer featured prominently at the college level, I still fundamentally believe that working comfortably and efficiently transitioning from a backpedal remains an important skill to keep in the toolbox for all corners. Likewise, it was refreshing to see Phillips III’s tape littered with pass breakups working from a backpedal, a crossover run, and undercuts in press coverage.
On the rep below, guarding a former Biletnikoff Award winner in Jordan Addison, Phillips III keys Caleb Williams drop in his read pedal, diagnosing a quick game read from the RPO action, and immediately triggering downhill to drive on the speed out. Closing with no wasted movement, Philips III arrives in a hurry, shooting his hands through the receivers pocket for an impressive pass breakup.
As I previously mentioned, the most impressive aspect of the Utah products game centers around versatility, whether that be positionally or in his technique. Working from zone coverage assignments, corners are often asked to zone turn, turning their back to the sideline to keep vision on the quarterback. Likewise, they are forced to effectively open and break out of a side shuffle and a crossover run, where they are no longer square to the line of scrimmage, a task which many cornerbacks can find difficulty in executing.
One season earlier, once again facing the USC Trojan offense, Phillips III pedals before opening into his crossover run, working out of a bail technique in Cover 3. As the corner sees the quarterback pull the pin on a comeback route to the boundary, Phillips III sinks his hips and efficiently breaks downhill, diving to extend his off hand and break up a pass intended for the talented Drake London.
Unlike most slot prospects, who exit college with limited experience actually playing the position, often projected to transition due to their size, Clark Phillips III exits Utah with plenty of experience in the slot, as well as on the boundary. This should help expedite his transition to the next level, where he likely spends most of his time in the slot.
On the rep below, the Utah corner does a nice job of staying, patiently giving ground from a catch alignment, staying square and breaking in unison with the receiver, closing to the near hip and undercutting the dig for a pass breakup. Clark Phillips III does a nice job of staying square and disrupting the catch point from both press and off coverage alignments when working out of the slot, he has a nice feel for undercutting intermediate routes.
Clark Phillips III has a natural feel in zone coverage assignments, both when playing on the boundary and in the slot. Particularly when aligned in the slot, the Utah corner does a tremendous job when operating as a flat defender, where he is able to sink and bait check down throws, where his quickness advantage allows him to bait quarterbacks and make impact plays coming downhill.
On the rep below, aligned as the flat defender in the boundary, working as a flat defender in a Cover 3 scheme. At the snap, Phillips III executes a flat foot read with eyes on his key, that being the #2 receiver. As the #2 receiver declares on a shallow release to the flat, the Utah corner is free to trigger downhill, closing quickly and arriving at the catch point with physicality, producing another impressive pass breakup.
The Utah product trusts his eyes, allowing him to be quick and efficient in his downhill trigger, a trait which allows him to use his agility to evade blockers and disrupt opponent screen game. Below, with Ohio State in a trips bunch set, Phillips III immediately diagnoses screen, using a weave pedal to maintain outside leverage before planting to break downhill, slipping under the kickout block, and putting down the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage.
If there is one primary weakness in Clark Phillips III’s game is his inconsistency in the tackling department. While he has shown flashes of brilliance, the Utah corner struggles to consistently break down when approaching ball carriers, getting caught flat footed at times. Likewise, as he tends to attack ball carriers lower half at the point of contact, he allows himself little room for error, often allowing opponents to slip off ankle tackles. When able to square up his target, Phillips III can effectively finish tackle attempts with noticeable hit power, but he will need to clean up his effort and technique at the next level, particularly if a team wants to make him a full time, every down slot.
Overall, Clark Phillips III possesses the necessary instincts, athleticism, technical refinement in coverage, and positional versatility to provide immediate value in a variety of defensive schemes at the next level. While he likely begins his career working primarily in sub-packages, Phillips III could provide additional value as a depth piece on the boundary, similarly to how Cam Sutton was used early in his Pittsburgh career prior to Mike Hilton’s departure.
Both in measurables and play style, Clark Phillips III reminds me quite a bit of New England Patriots corner Jonathon Jones, a longtime fixture at the slot positon who transitioned to a more prominent role on the boundary this past season. Similar to Jones, Phillips III relies on superior technique to mitigate size advantages of larger framed receivers. Likewise, despite lacking size, both players are able to use their football IQ and pre-snap reads to beat blockers in open space with agility and quick trigger ability.
Immediately, Phillips III should provide any team with solid man coverage ability in the slot and a boost in terms of ability to generate takeaways. Particularly when viewing in the lens of Pittsburgh’s needs, Clark Phillips III could slide in as an every down slot, sliding in seamlessly to a defense that was tied atop the league in.
Projection: Late Day Two/Early Day Three
Depot Draft Grade: 8.3- Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)
Games Watched: at Florida (2022), vs USC (2022), vs UCLA (2021), vs Ohio State (2021/2022 Rose Bowl), at BYU (2021), at USC (2021), at San Diego State (2021), vs Colorado (2021)