Despite initially planning to announce his decision at The Opening, four-star Avon (CT) Old Farms TE Chris Clark committed to Michigan today, choosing the Wolverines over Michigan State, North Carolina—where he briefly committed earlier in his recruitment—and Ohio State. Clark becomes the eighth member of Michigan's 2015 class and the first at tight end.
Clark committed while visiting campus today, one day after checking out Michigan State and two days removed from a trip to Columbus. Instead of choosing between those three schools at The Opening as planned, Clark will be recruiting for Michigan while he's there, per Steve Wiltfong:
"Just the fact I want to have the opportunity to recruit at The Opening," Clark said, "I want to let people know I'm at Michigan and I'd like to tell people they're building big things at Michigan and tell them to be part of it.
"I just feel so good at Michigan. I thought it would be a great day to do it with my mom and dad here."
Well played, young man.
5*, #1 TE,
4*, #4 TE,
4*, 83, #3 TE,
4*, 93, #6 TE,
4*, #2 TE,
There's a pretty sizable disparity in Clark's rankings, but that isn't so much a concern when the disparity is between "very good" and "awesome"—ESPN's #191 overall ranking represents the former, Scout bestowing him a fifth star the latter. Average it all out and he comes in just one spot outside the composite top 100 overall, and second among tight ends.
Every site save Rivals lists Clark at 6'6", 247 pounds; Rivals gives him an extra six pounds. Unlike some other recent Michigan tight end recruits, Clark should have little problem playing with his hand in the dirt from day one with that size.
Well, sure, I'll happily start this section with Bucknuts' Duane Long raving over Clark's game while listing him as Ohio State's third-most important 2015 target (behind only Justin Hilliard and Jashon Cornell) in an article published... yesterday ($):
3. Chris Clark, Tight End, Avon (Conn.) Old Farms: If I was building a tight end he would look like Clark. Great looking, big body. Hands are exceptional. Runs great. There is an argument that tight end is the biggest need in the class. Jeff Heuerman is a senior. Nick Vannett is a junior. Marcus Baugh is … Marcus Baugh. Three players at the position - one being a senior and another is one misstep from Coffeyville - says tight end is a real need in this class.
With that delicious morsel of schadenfreude out of the way, let's go to Scout's free evaluation, which contains considerable praise about an aspect of Clark's game that should excite Michigan fans:
Clark is a complete tight end who can block, get out and catch the ball and also be a factor in the red zone. He has very good hands and is a red-zone threat. He does a nice job running routes and he is a big, physical player. He also embraces the blocking portion of the game, and does a good job getting off the line of scrimmage cleanly. All around, Clark is a complete tight end who should havea big impact quickly in college. -- Brian Dohn
That "catch the ball" stuff is nice and all; as we've learned, having a tight end who's willing and able to hold up as a blocker is just as important. With Jake Butt and now Clark, Michigan has a couple very nice traditional tight end types set to man the position for a while.
ESPN's evaluation also praises Clark's blocking, albeit while noting he can improve technically in that regard, and goes in depth on his ability as a pass-catcher:
Flashes a good burst and not a true vertical threat, but enough speed to challenge downfield. Height and leaping ability make can make him a tough match-up and a red-zone target. Has experience lining up in various alignments. Needs to continue to develop as a route runner, but flashes good ability to work through traffic. Isn't overly elusive, but good size and runs hard and flashes some ability to make the first defender miss.
Good hands and confident pass catcher that displays ability to consistently snatch the ball away from him frame. Displays good body control and can adjust well to throws outside his frame.
That comes from an updated scouting report that's a good deal more positive than his junior year evaluation, which said he had good upside but was "not a top prospect" at the time. Now ESPN concludes that while Clark still has aspects of his game to develop (who doesn't?), he "can grow into a very good and well-rounded college TE."
Clark earned his invite to The Opening after a standout performance at the New Jersey NFTC; according to 247's Steve Wiltfong, linebackers simply couldn't stay with him:
The Avon (Conn.) Old Farms Top247 tight end certainly backed up the fact he’s one of the nation’s top players at his position, with a consistent performance during 1-on-1s. Linebackers didn’t stand a chance with his athleticism, and the sure-handed receiver knows how to get open.
Just a week after that performance, Scout bumped Clark into five-star territory, and their head of scouting gave an "eeeeeeeeee"-worthy report on his game:
“One of the best words I can use to describe a football player is 'tenacious', and Clark is absolutely tenacious,” Scout.com director of scouting Scott Kennedy said. “It doesn't matter if he's lining up at defensive end, outside linebacker, blocking tight end, or slot receiver, he does everything with the mindset of dominating his opponent.
“Looking at the combination of his size and athleticism, his non-stop ability to attack, and his skill of playing different positions from blocking, catching, disengaging from blockers, or occupying double teams, we're looking at a five-star college prospect, and the best tight end I've seen this year.”
Yes, I couldn't figure out what not to put in bold in the second paragraph, so ALL BOLD EVERYTHING.
Clark could be headed into similarly lofty territory on Rivals after excelling at their invite-only (and Rivals-reporters-only) Five-Star Challenge a couple weeks ago. He earned top tight end honors despite getting dinged up on the first day of camp, and after it was over Mike Farrell listed him as one of the ten prospects who most helped their stock ($):
Clark is a huge tight end who can move and catches the ball well. He has a rumbling running style and you can tell he's a load to bring down when he reaches top speed. He showed soft hands, he was a big target and he was tough coming back from an injury day one to be the most productive tight end on the event's second day.
In Farrell's post-camp awards column, Clark earned honorable mention for most physically impressive and best work ethic, and Farrell suggested he's in line to move up when Rivals updates their rankings.
Michigan's tight end recruiting has been focused in recent classes on three types of players: lanky receiver types (Devin Funchess, Ian Bunting), smaller fullback/H-Back types (Khalid Hill, Wyatt Shallman), and all-around guys who can hold up on the line while still providing plenty in the passing game (Jake Butt). Clark definitely falls into the last category.
In addition to his finalists, Clark held offers from Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Boston College, Cincinnati, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Miami (YTM), Mississippi State, Mizzou, NC State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Penn State, Pitt, Purdue, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas Tech, UCF, Virginia, and Virginia Tech, among a few others.
Rather prestigious list, that.
Avon Old Farms is a private school with a history of producing players who end up mostly at academically-inclined East Coast schools. You're familiar with one of the exceptions: former Michigan running back Mike Cox, who eventually transferred to UMass to finish out his career.
Clark caught 39 passes for 417 yards and six touchdowns in his junior season, breaking out as a receiver despite adding 40 pounds after his sophomore season.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals lists a pretty darn reasonable time of 4.72 seconds, which I'll give two FAKEs out of five.
Single game cut-ups from his junior and sophomore seasons are available on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Clark looks like one of the likeliest candidates in the 2015 class to make an immediate impact when he gets to campus, as he already boasts the size to play tight end as a junior in high school. Jake Butt will be a junior when Clark is a freshman, so he should be able to slowly work his way onto the field as a freshman as he gets a grasp on Doug Nussmeier's offense and the college game as a whole. When Butt graduates after the 2016 season, Clark is the clear-cut candidate to take over as the every-down tight end.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Michigan now has eight spots filled for the 2015 class; our best guess is this class will be around 16 players in total. Top priorities include running back, wide receiver, defensive end, outside linebacker, and a cornerback to replace Shaun Crawford in the class.