When Ted Thompson and the Green Bay Packers coaching staff were asked by the media to comment on their first-round pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, words like “all-purpose” and “versatile” were used to describe former Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
“I think he’s a real all-purpose kind of safety. He’s shown the ability to cover down in the slot. He’s good in run support. Physical player. He can play well in the back end.” Thompson went on to praise Clinton-Dix’s ball skills and said he hit the entire list of things they look for in a player at the position.
“He was the most solid, skilled player on the board … He plays the game well.”
Clinton-Dix is the complete safety the Packers have been missing in their secondary since Nick Collins‘ departure in the 2012 offseason.
The Florida native was highly regarded coming out of Alabama and seen by many draft analysts as the top safety prospect in this year’s draft.
At 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds, Clinton-Dix certainly passes the eye test for the position. He also left college a year early with an impressive resume as a former leader in the Crimson Tide secondary, recording seven interceptions and eight pass breakups as a two-year starter.
However, Clinton-Dix’s game is so much more than impressive measurables or college production. The Packers coaching staff was also impressed with his ability to break down and dissect plays when they met with him at the NFL Combine.
“He’s plenty smart. His football IQ is what you like it to be for a guy you take at that position,” defensive backs coach Daren Perry told Packers media following the draft Thursday night.
Alabama coach Nick Saban has his safeties shoulder a lot of the defensive responsibilities. He expects them to be able to make calls, break down plays, and call out coverage audibles on the fly. They’re the defense’s eyes and ears on the field, and Clinton-Dix excelled in this role.
Maybe it was his ability to quickly read and react to plays that impressed the Packers scouts and coaching staff, but it was also his versatility that caught their eye.
“His play on the football field opened our eyes … This kid has the ability to do everything at the position.” Coach Perry continued emphasizing Clinton-Dix’s versatility, “He can play in the deep zone. He can play near the line of scrimmage … He’s plenty fast and physical … He can run and tackle.”
As a free safety, Clinton-Dix is often perceived as a drop-back ballhawk who can safeguard the back end, but the former Alabama safety also showcased his ability to make plays near the line of scrimmage and against the run last season, recording 51 tackles and four tackles for loss.
And though Clinton-Dix didn’t record a great 40 time at the combine (4.58), he plays with plenty of speed. He uses his ability to read and react to plays to quickly close in on the ball in pass coverage or chase down the ball carrier in the flat.
It’s his physicality that often gets overlooked, but also what the Packers liked over some of the other free safeties available in the draft.
“The kid can run. He can tackle … You like his physicalness … He’s a guy that will be expected to play near the line of scrimmage and in the deep part of the field as well, and he’ll be effective.”
Clinton-Dix is that well-rounded safety the Packers have been missing for several years now and should complement Morgan Burnett well in the secondary.
The fact that both Clinton-Dix and Burnett can both drop back in coverage or play near the line of scrimmage makes the Packers more versatile on defense and will allow them to disguise their coverages.
The Packers have addressed the biggest need on their roster by drafting one of the top players at the position coming out of college. Now, it’s up to Clinton-Dix to compete and develop into a starting-caliber safety for the Packers going forward.