The Green Bay Packers found a way into the NFL playoffs again in 2013 despite an injury to their superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a weak defense and a mediocre 8-7-1 record. In order to address a portion of their defensive issues, the Packers selected former Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft. He will join his former college teammate and the 2013 offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy on a very strong Packers roster.
In 2013, the Packers allowed an average of 247.3 passing yards per game, ranking 24th in the NFL in this category. This not-so-encouraging statistic was likely a result of a very weak Packers defensive secondary. Now Chicago Bears safety M.D. Jennings was the weakest link of a group that also included cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields as well as safety Morgan Burnett. While Williams is a proven playmaker in the Packers’ secondary, he also gets beat over the top more than most coaches would like.
Enter Clinton-Dix, arguably the most pro-ready and complete safety the 2014 NFL Draft had to offer. Since the Packers opted not to re-sign Jennings during free agency, Clinton-Dix should slide in as the immediate starter at free safety. However, he will battle safeties Sean Richardson, Tanner Miller, Charles Clay and Chris Banjo for the position during training camp.
On paper, Clinton-Dix is a coach’s dream at the safety position. At 6-foot-1, 208-pounds, Clinton-Dix is very close to ideal size for an NFL safety. He possesses above average speed, running a 4.58 forty-yard dash at the NFL combine, as well as great play recognition and ball skills. During his successful tenure at Alabama, Clinton-Dix intercepted seven passes and recorded a pass defense on 15 more. He was one of the most important pieces of arguably the best defense in college football over the past few seasons.
Clinton-Dix does bring some issues with him. In 2013, he was suspended for two games for unspecified team rules violations and also was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. Regardless, Clinton-Dix represents a special talent at the safety position.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson was likely jumping for joy when Clinton-Dix fell into his lap at the 21st overall pick. Chances are that many teams will regret passing on Clinton-Dix as he will likely contend for defensive rookie of the year in 2014 and provide an elite defensive talent to the Packers’ secondary for many years to come.