With the No. 7 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix out of Alabama.
Before you call this an egregious mistake, consider the circumstances. When you hold a Top 10 pick, it is vital to pinpoint and select a “blue chip” prospect regardless of need. In this draft, the Buccaneers needed a wide receiver and a defensive end who could play on the opposite side of newly-signed defensive end Michael Johnson. When it came to their pick, the blue chip prospects at both positions were already off the board. Instead, I opted to take one of the best safety prospects to enter the draft in the last several years.
Clinton-Dix offers size, range, and football instincts that can’t be matched by any other safety in this draft. His skill-set has been compared to Earl Thomas’ when he entered the draft. Drafting Clinton-Dix will provide the team with another playmaker for Lovie Smith’s new defensive scheme, and he will get on the field much sooner than people expect.
In today’s NFL, teams use the “big nickel” defensive package with three safeties on the field so often that it can be considered a base package for some teams. More specifically, in the NFC South, the Buccaneers will match up four times combined with the Saints and Falcons. These two teams like to utilize “11 personnel” packages with three wide receivers on the field or a move tight end lined up in the slot. Clinton-Dix has shown the ability to come down into the box and be a successful slot defender.
This pick was also made with the team’s future in mind. There is a strong case to support that Clinton-Dix would assume a starting safety role next to Mark Barron as soon as 2015. Currently, the team has highly-paid but highly-unproductive safety Dashon Goldson under contract. Goldson has struggled in his time with the Buccaneers since signing a mega-contract with the team. He is now transitioning into a zone-based scheme, something he has not had experience with. According to Overthecap.com, Goldson’s $8 million 2015 salary cap hit has no dead money attached to it, meaning the Buccaneers can cut him next offseason with no strings attached.
Some might consider drafting from any quarterback in the entire class here, but I believe the Buccaneers are committed to winning with Josh McCown for at least the foreseeable future. None of the quarterback prospects have earned as high a grade as Clinton-Dix, respectively, from the games I have reviewed. The same can be said for Eric Ebron and Odell Beckham Jr., who also just missed the cut here.
Also, remember that the Buccaneers were linked to free agent Jairus Byrd in the early stages of free agency. Their interest in upgrading at safety is not well advertised but also not completely hidden.
Clinton-Dix can fit in any defensive system, but Smith is the type of defensive boss who can get the most out of him. He is an immediate upgrade to the Buccaneers’ secondary.