Nevelle Clarke joined the Minnesota Vikings as undrafted free agent, but he talks like a first-round pick.
The rookie cornerback is one confident guy. After starring at Central Florida, Clarke vows to stand out in training camp.
“I just can’t wait to actually hit the field and be able to show people my talents,” he said. “I’ve just got to go out there and do what I do best. This defense runs a whole lot of variety of coverages, and I excelled (in college) in those coverages, and I just feel like I’m a top guy.”
Many prognosticators expected Clarke to be picked in in April’s NFL draft. When he wasn’t, the Vikings picked him up by guaranteeing him $115,000 for this season, the most for any of the 12 undrafted free agents they signed. He got a $15,000 signing bonus and had $100,000 of his $610,000 salary guaranteed.
Clarke reported to camp in Eagan, Minn., last Thursday along with other Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and selected players. All other veterans reported Tuesday, July 28.
Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be a few weeks before the Vikings do much on the field. On Tuesday, Clarke was placed on the active/non-football injury list with what he said was an old hamstring injury. But he said that won’t keep him out of practice at the start.
“When we start practicing, then they’ll be able to see how fluid I am, and see how I can move,” said Clarke, who ranked second in the American Athletic Conference last season with 13 passes defended. “I’m going to be the best I can be, and people are going to be able to see the difference.”
The Vikings need all the help they can get at cornerback. In March, they released starter Xavier Rhodes, and starter Trae Waynes and nickel back Mackensie Alexander both left as free agents. In the draft, they selected cornerbacks in the first (Jeff Gladney), third (Cameron Dantzler) and fifth (Harrison Hand) rounds.
As far as being a confident guy, Clarke said some of that stems to being from Florida, a hotbed for football.
“If you’re from Florida, we’re football breeders down there,” the Miami native said. “So, you know, that confidence thing is just something that we’re born with, and that’s just something that as you go on you build on that. And ever since I’ve played corner, every year, every day I’m able to work on it, I get confident even more.”
While confident as a player, Clarke has been restrained in the rest of his life the past four or five months. Being in South Florida during the coronavirus pandemic, he worked out every other day with a trainer, but other than that, he rarely ventured out of his house.
“I’m more scared about the COVID-19 than a lot of people,” he said. “I’m scared to even come close to those gatherings. I know not even to play around with it, and I didn’t want to come close to catching the virus or being around anybody who did. I took that very serious when it came to staying away from people. If I wasn’t working out, I was home all day.”
Clarke arrived in Minnesota on July 22. Like other players, he has been tested regularly for the coronavirus, and all his tests so far have been negative.
He doesn’t deny having some apprehension about camp getting underway during the pandemic, but he’s hopeful the Vikings will make things as safe as possible.
“I’m still skeptical about it, but if they feel they have the best possible way for us to social distance and not get the virus, I’m going to put my trust in them,” Clarke said. “So far, it’s been going pretty good. They’ve got us testing every day.
“We have our own (hotel) rooms and we’re pretty spread out. So, I mean, I really stay away from my teammates. I know they’re my teammates, but at some point we’ll be able to talk with each other and be closer.”
Clarke figures he will have plenty of time to get to know his teammates. Not surprisingly, he anticipates making the 53-man roster when it is set Sept. 5 to start the season.
“I feel very confident about coming in and making the roster,” he said. “I feel I’m part of the organization, and I’m just there to stamp it, to make it official.”