Clinton-Dix 'Was the Most Complete Package'

That's the opinion of Phil Savage, the former general manager who saw the top safety prospects up close in his post-NFL duties. Savage detailed Clinton-Dix's game and explains why "he's got more out in front of him than the other safeties."

The Green Bay Packers need their first-round investment in safety HaHa Clinton-Dix to pay immediate dividends.

The bigger dividends, however, may be coming down the road.

"You're getting a very young player that has the potential to really develop and grow into a major talent," said Phil Savage, the former NFL general manager who has seen every one of Clinton-Dix's games in his role as analyst on Alabama's radio broadcasts.

"He's only a third-year junior. He can add weight, he can add some girth to his body. He's got excellent range, he's got ball skills, he will tackle. I would think that for what they needed in the draft, for him to be available at 21, if you fast forward a year from now, if he had stayed in school, I'd venture to say that he would have been a top-15 pick next year. I think there's a high degree of upside with HaHa."

Clinton-Dix, who turned 21 in December, is the youngest of the four first-round safeties. The others who were on the board when Green Bay was on the clock at No. 21 — Washington State's Deone Bucannon and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward — played at the Senior Bowl. Savage is the Senior Bowl's executive director, so saw them in person and extensively on tape.

With that unique perspective, Savage said the Packers made the right choice.

Again, it was based on tomorrow as much as today.

"I would say, based on the potential that he brings to the table, he's got more out in front of him than the other safeties in terms of projecting him forward a year or two from now," Savage said. "Deone Bucannon was in our game, Jimmie Ward is from Mobile and was in our game, so I don't want to discount their abilities, but I think HaHa was the most complete package, especially if you project him a year or two from now."

One reason why Clinton-Dix was the fit at No. 21 is how he fits in Green Bay's defense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers prefers to play his safeties interchangeably. Clinton-Dix provides that type of versatility to form a quality tandem with Morgan Burnett. Bucannon, who is more of an in-the-box safety, made sense for Arizona at No. 27 opposite Tyrann Mathieu. Ward, who is more of a ballhawking centerfielder, made sense for San Francisco at No. 30 opposite Eric Reid.

"I think it's easier to take a safety that can be a centerfielder and have him do some run-support things than have a strong safety type and try to make him into a range safety," Savage said. "(Clinton-Dix) can absolutely do both. They essentially played him high and low at Alabama, so he's got some cover ability in the slot, as a nickel, as a dime. He's a good prospect for the era of football that we're in right now."

It's that versatility that stood out to Packers safeties coach Darren Perry.

"You want versatile guys, and that's what we look for, but I think you still have to have the base fundamentals, and you've got to have guys that are smart, tough, can tackle," Perry said after the Packers picked Clinton-Dix. "Then when the opportunity presents itself to go get the football, they've got to be able to do that, and that's what we look for."

Clinton-Dix, the nation's top-ranked safety coming out of high school, was one of seven true freshmen to letter for Alabama in 2011. In 2012, he replaced Mark Barron — Tampa Bay's first-round draft pick — and had a breakout season with five interceptions. In 2013, his production dropped off to two interceptions, due in part to a two-game suspension to start the season and a late-season knee injury.

He might have been in school for only three years and started for two seasons, but Clinton-Dix should be ready from a mental standpoint. Alabama coach Nick Saban is renowned for running a system that's as advanced as any run in the NFL. That should speed up Clinton-Dix's learning curve.

"That was one of things that impressed Coach Capers and myself at the Combine because you get a chance to talk some football with the guys before they work out and just getting a feel for where he was mentally — what he was asked to do in terms of being a communicator and making the calls back there," Perry said. "We felt really good about that, and you expect that from the guys that come out of the University of Alabama. Nick, he's got his hand on that secondary and they play a lot of variation of coverages back there, and he's been exposed to a lot."

Savage, too, saw Clinton-Dix as an NFL-ready performer from a mental standpoint, both in terms of the playbook and seeing the action unfold in front of him.

"I think he was good," Savage said. "The thing about playing at Alabama, you're really in a pro-style system with a lot of the same terminology and verbiage. He came in as a highly recruited freshman and he got out on the field some and basically started the last two years. I think his communication skills and those sorts of things really grew when he was in Tuscaloosa. I never saw him as a guy who struggled instinctually. I thought he was a good player from that standpoint. He is a natural player from that standpoint."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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