The Alabama Crimson Tide have built a solid reputation in the college world with their string of national championships and in the NFL for producing worthy talent. Safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix is just another product of head coach Nick Saban‘s pipeline to the league.
The Orlando, Flor. native decided to forgo his senior season in Tuscaloosa, but it was not without reason. The two-time national champion registered 50 total tackles in only 11 games in 2013 — an increase from his 37-tackle 2012 season in a full schedule — en route to earning a first-team spot on the 2013 on the All-SEC team. Clinton-Dix is going to make his presence felt on ball carriers. He’s aggressive in space, yet still disciplined. To put it simply, he’s a hard hitter.
While some would argue both safeties should complement each other in style within a team’s pass-coverage schemes — one is a hard hitter and the other is a ball hawk, and vice versa — it’s always better to have things in pairs. Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett falls under the umbrella of a hard hitter as a member of defensive coordinator Dom Capers‘ unit. He makes his presence largely known at the line of scrimmage, as he has averaged 109 combined tackles over the last three season. Yet, as the free safety, he doesn’t particularly perform well in pass coverage to put it nicely. There were countless times he was lost in the back end. Plus, he allowed the last man to get behind all too often, a cardinal sin in the deep secondary.
While Morgan is that hard-hitting option of the safety equation, Clinton-Dix could add further to the equation with his disciplined tackling while additionally settling the other option in pass coverage. He has great closing speed on the ball and is not afraid to be physical with the wide receivers. This was on full display during the 2012 season as he registered five interceptions, tied for 11th in the nation.
His ball-hawking skills within the interception realm were not as prominently displayed during the 2013 season, only gathering two interceptions. From the three games I watched on tape, per Draft Breakdown — at Texas A&M and Auburn in 2013, Oklahoma in the 2014 Sugar Bowl — Clinton-Dix still was a force in space with sound tackling fundamentals. Not to mention, the game against Johnny Manziel and Co. was when he delivered a punishing hit on the sideline to wide receiver Derel Walker.
However, as was evident on this near-ejection play, he was late arriving in pass coverage in both games. He did, in fact, display the good ball-closing speeds, but he was simply late in getting to the play. This was largely due to the fact that his first step often tended to be forward. He was too overly aggressive, which led him being late on the deep balls, most notably against A&M’s Mike Evans. The potential first-round wide receiver dominated Clinton-Dix and Co., catching seven passes for 279 yards with one score.
Also, Clinton-Dix’s size gets him in trouble a bit with bigger offensive linemen, backs and bigger wide receivers on bubble screens (against Oklahoma stands out), which often leads him to getting chop blocked. Still, he is a tough, physical kid who is not afraid to stick his nose in the trenches. All in all, Clinton-Dix is sure to land himself in the first round come May and has the potential to be the combo safety that was touched upon early.
The key question remaining for general manager Ted Thompson and the Packers is what year is more evident of Clinton-Dix’s pass-covering abilities?