Despite his first name being Ha Ha, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is anything but a joke.
The former Alabama standout will be vying with Louisville’s Calvin Pryor to be the first safety taken off the board come May, and Clinton-Dix’s play certainly makes the case for him.
Clinton-Dix’s college career compares favorably to that of a number of safeties selected in the first round over the past few years, including Eric Berry, Earl Thomas III, Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid and Matt Elam.
Clinton-Dix tallied fewer tackles and fewer pass-breakups than his predecessors during their senior campaigns, and his two picks in 2013 was a decline that than five he totaled the season prior. Still, Clinton-Dix earned first-team All-SEC honors and played through a lingering knee injury. But his numbers aren’t hurting his draft stock.
Scouts view Clinton-Dix as a true center-fielder for a defensive secondary, with the ability to read a quarterback’s eyes and to make a quick break on the ball. He also is a stark defender against the run with no issues making tackles in open space or close up to the line of scrimmage.
One off-the-field concern regarding Clinton-Dix is his two-game suspension early on in the season. The safety was suspended for two games after accepting a loan from a strength and conditioning coach, which he later repaid.
With all that in mind, Clinton-Dix may be viewed as the No. 1 or 2 safety in this class but probably not an elite prospect like Berry or Thomas. Still, he’s being viewed as a defensive back that can immediately improve a secondary both in pass coverage and as a defender in the box.
Many teams that struggled defensively this season are eyeing Clinton-Dix, with the first potential landing spot being No. 14 overall to the Chicago Bears. Charles Tillman and Major Wright are both headed toward free agency, leaving Chris Conte as the lone candidate to fill in at safety. If the top safety is still on the boards, Chicago has to grab him.
Next up is the Pittsburgh Steelers sitting at No. 15. Team owner Art Rooney II has already endorsed veteran Troy Polamalu for next season and beyond, but Ryan Clark is slated to be a free agent and has not ruled out retirement. Clinton-Dix could learn alongside Polamalu as the Steelers continue revamping their defense.
There’s no question the Dallas Cowboys, who ranked 30th-ranked in pass defense, should be in the market for safeties. Last year, the tandem of Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox combined for one interception. The unit obviously needs to improve and has needed to for years. That process could begin with the addition of Clinton-Dix.
It seems unlikely that Clinton-Dix would fall past the Green Bay Packers at No. 21. The Pack ranked 24th against the pass last season, and while facing the likes of Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford twice a year it seems logical to strengthen the secondary.