Knowing coach Rex Ryan’s aggressive demeanor, it certainly wasn’t a surprise that the Jets went for Pryor. A few picks later, the Packers grabbed Clinton-Dix at No. 21.
“Both guys were excellent players,” Ryan said during a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday morning. “We would have been happy with either guy. But I took the guy who will knock your face in.”
Pryor started and played all 56 snaps in the Jets’ Week 1 victory over Oakland. He produced four tackles in a suffocating defensive performance against the Raiders.
Pryor entered the NFL with the big-hitting reputation mentioned by Ryan. The coverage skills were the question mark. The debut was impressive, though, as he was part of a defense that yielded just 133 net passing yards. According to ProFootballFocus.com’s film review, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed 1-of-3 passes against Pryor for just 2 yards on a checkdown to running back Maurice Jones-Drew. On passes to speedy receiver Denarius Moore, Carr was 0-for-2 and Pryor broke up one pass.
“He looked pretty good last week,” Ryan said of Pryor’s play against the pass. “He can do it all. I think that’s the most underrated part of his game. He can run, he’s got cover skills. His angles were questioned when he first came out of college but he adapted his game quickly and, again, I think sometimes you underestimate his coverage skills. The fact (is) that he’s an overall safety that’s going to be a force for years and years. He is a hitter and that will be recognized early.”
The Jets scouted Clinton-Dix extensively and Ryan came away impressed with the safety’s all-around ability.
“An outstanding player,” he said. “The guy has centerfield ability. I like the way he comes up, supports the run, he’s an active player. He’s smart, he’s tough. I think he has a chance to be a good one.”
Clinton-Dix didn’t start against the Seahawks, though he did play 40 of 70 snaps. He rotated in at safety with starter Micah Hyde and played safety when Hyde moved up to be the dime defensive back. His debut wasn’t as good as Pryor’s. According to the Packers coaches’ film review, Clinton-Dix had six tackles, including a sack of Russell Wilson when he pursued quickly as Wilson tried to scramble to his left, and he broke up the only pass intended for him. However, he missed two tackles – including an awful miss on Ricardo Lockette’s touchdown – and the pass defensed was a dropped an interception in which he let the ball come to him rather than jump to attack the ball.
“You saw him make a really nice play coming out of the hole area on the scramble,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. “He closed and you saw his speed, his ability to close and do that. He’s going to bring a physical presence I think in terms of the tackling. There were a few plays I’m sure that he would like to have back. But that’s part of being a rookie and you work your way through those. But I think it’s a good start. I’m certainly glad we’ve got him.”
Clinton-Dix and Pryor go way back. Clinton-Dix played at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla. Pryor played at Port St. Joe High School in Port St. Joe, Fla. Putting on his scouting cap, Clinton-Dix didn't see much difference between himself and Pryor. Both play fast, are physical against the run and can excel in coverage.
“It’s always been a battle between us two from high school to college to now," he said. "We talk still now. I’m happy for him, he’s happy for me and we’re just going to go out and do the best we can do on special teams and defense.”
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.