Tale of Two Safeties: Pryor vs. Clinton-Dix

If the Packers are targeting a safety in the first round, who is the better fit: Alabama's HaHa Clinton Dix or Louisville's Calvin Pryor? Perhaps it's the one whose collegiate defensive coordinator called "the whole package."

Two different players, two different styles, and both would fill one gaping hole in the Green Bay Packers' defense.

The Packers' safety position was one of their biggest issues last season. The combination of Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings — not to mention another 550 snaps from Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo and Jerron McMillian — finished with zero interceptions and zero forced fumbles, and too often were caught out of position, which led to big plays for the opposition.

While the Packers did break their mold and add a couple of free agents, neither Julius Peppers nor Letroy Guion addressed the safety position. With high-priced options like Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward off the market to the highest bidder, it became evident early in March that the Packers likely would have to address the position in the draft.

With the emergence of the Seattle Seahawks' defense employing two good safeties, the position is now in high demand. That is good news for Alabama's Hasean Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor. The two safeties met with the Packers during February's Scouting Combine, and are both likely will receive attention in the first round of May's NFL Draft.

Either player would fill a need in the secondary, as each have a distinct skill-set.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock compared Pryor to a bigger version of former Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders. He is physical and comes into games ready to hit, and his coverage skills are underrated, according to his former defensive coordinator.

"He's a heck of player," said former Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, who holds the same title at Texas. "Extremely hard worker. Very self-motivated young man. He wants to be successful. He's one of the best safeties I've ever coached.

"He's an excellent center field safety. He doesn't get any credit for that. He did a great job. His first two years, we put him in the post more. This past year, we put him more down in the box. His first start for us (against Rutgers midway through the 2011 season), he intercepted the football. I think he's the whole package."

With the way the Packers' season ended the last three years, one of the labels they have received is that they are a soft group. That is something that resonated with the unit throughout the season as it tried to shed that badge of dishonor.

Mike Daniels tweeted to some of his teammates, "How bout we be the bad guys for once."

Adding Pryor to that defense certainly would add another bad guy on the back end.


Perhaps the biggest advantage for Pryor from the Packers' perspective would be that he was more of a playmaker than Clinton-Dix this past season. Pryor finished the season with three interceptions and four passes defended, both of which are a higher total than his counterpart.

The Packers entered the offseason with a self-described need of more playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, and adding Pryor would give them a player that describes himself as greedy. "You don't really like to give up much nowadays, you know," he said. "In the middle of the field, you don't have to play as deep because you have pass rushers that can get home. Everybody has to be accountable for their position."

There is a question of how he would fit in the defense, because there are questions about Pryor's coverage ability. The Packers prefer to use their safeties interchangeably and Morgan Burnett has performed better around the line of scrimmage, so the team might be looking for someone who excels in coverage.

The other option for the Packers in the first round could be Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix started for the last two seasons at Alabama. He burst onto the scene in 2012 with five interceptions, including one in the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame.

In 2013, however, the big plays were not there. His interception total dipped from five to two, and he was not around the ball nearly as much as he was during his sophomore campaign.

Clinton-Dix does not believe that to be an issue. At the Scouting Combine, he cited playing in coach Nick Saban's system as the reason he is the best safety in the draft.

"I feel like a lot of teams use the pro-style offense in college," Clinton-Dix said. "Playing for Coach Saban's defense, we did a lot of things. We played nickel, dime, Cover-2 situations. We played a lot of different defenses."

So, the question for the Packers is what is more important. Clinton-Dix appears to fit their need for a cover type of safety, and has experience in a lot of different types of defenses. Pryor fits their need as someone who is around the ball and makes plays for a unit that did not get many big plays from its safeties a season ago.

Mayock has Clinton-Dix ranked as his top safety, but does not believe there is much of a gap between the two players.

"I think the difference between Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, I think both are outstanding," he said. "Both will be really good players. I think Clinton-Dix is a little more rangy in coverage and Pryor is a little more physical coming down the hill in defending the run. They both can play free safety, but I think Clinton-Dix has a little bit more range. It's really what you are looking for."

If the Packers are looking at a safety with the 21st overall pick, they should be looking for someone to inject a nasty playmaking presence into their secondary. They should be looking for Pryor rather than Clinton-Dix.


Jacob Westendorf is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and an intern for Packer Report. E-mail him at westjd03@uwgb.edu. Find Jacob on Twitter at twitter.com/JacobWestendorf.


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