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Eisenberg: Chuck Clark Reminds Us That Day 3 Matters


When most fans think of the NFL Draft, they envision the glitzy opening night with its red carpet arrivals, big-name prospects and massive, roaring crowd.

They definitely do NOT envision the third day, when the crowd is sparse and the draft's late rounds roll by in what sometimes becomes a droning blur.

But the third day matters. A lot. For the latest example of why, please see the news that the Ravens have signed safety Chuck Clark to a significant contract extension.

Clark, 24, joined the Ravens in 2017 as a sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech. I'm sure most fans had never heard of him and didn't expect him to become more than a role player. Why should they? Historically, a defensive back taken in the sixth round stands an eight percent chance of becoming a starter. Any DB taken on the third day, in rounds four through seven, faces similar odds. A fourth-rounder has an 11 percent chance.

As recently as last October, Clark's career matched those limited expectations. He was a backup, primarily a special teams contributor. His teammates praised his knowledge of the Ravens' system and his technical soundness in the secondary, but those qualities hadn't translated into more playing time.

His opportunity arrived when Tony Jefferson suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 5. Clark not only became the starter, but also was given the green-dot helmet, meaning he'd be relaying the signals for the entire defense.

It was a turning point for both the defense and for Clark. The unit performed much better down the stretch. Clark wound up leading the team in combined tackles.

Suddenly, it was easy to see him as a long-term puzzle piece and natural candidate for a contract extension. He wasn't going to break the bank, no small thing at a position where the Ravens have invested a ton of money in search of stability.

Think about it. After Ed Reed's departure, the Ravens drafted Matt Elam in the first round in 2013 and Terrence Brooks in the third round a year later, hoping they'd be the long-range answer at safety. When neither panned out, the team had to sign Eric Weddle (in 2016), Jefferson (in 2017) and Earl Thomas III (in 2019) to contracts worth more than $100 million combined.

It's quite a longshot story that a third-day draft pick wound up providing stability and continuity at a position that has forced the Ravens to dig so deep into their pockets.

Yes, the Ravens also drafted Nico Siragusa and Jermaine Eluemunor on the day they took Clark in 2017, illustrating the reality that third day picks are no sure thing.

But Clark's rise illustrates how important those hits can be. He isn't the Ravens' first third-day guy to exceed expectations. Over the years, they've found a lot of quality players near the end of the draft.

In fact, while they've received attention for their ability to uncover undrafted gems year after year, their third-day record might be better.

Since 2011, Pernell McPhee, Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Juszczyk, Rick Wagner, Ryan Jensen, Nick Boyle, Darren Waller, Tavon Young and Matthew Judon all have become noteworthy NFL players after entering the league as third-day draft picks of the Ravens.

Adalius Thomas, the franchise's poster child for late-round success, was drafted No. 186 overall in 2000 and went on to earn two Pro Bowl invitations and first-team All-Pro honors (in 2006).

If Thomas has competition as the Ravens' greatest-ever sixth round pick, it's probably punter Sam Koch, taken No. 203 overall in 2006. Jensen and Waller can also stake a claim, having signed big contracts with other teams.

Clark is seemingly on his way to joining that select company.

His signing brings the Ravens' 2020 secondary into focus. Clark and Thomas are the starting safeties, with DeShon Elliott backing them up. Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters are the outside cornerbacks, with Tavon Young manning the slot. The only uncertainties are whether Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr also return, and the Ravens have to make a decision on Jefferson.

It's a high-priced, big-name group, but when they're in the huddle next season, they'll be taking orders from a third-day draft pick.

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