At Alabama, they traded big plays.
At Green Bay on Oct. 9, they traded jerseys.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was the Packers’ first-round pick in 2014, going No. 21 overall. Landon Collins was the Giants’ second-round pick in 2015, going No. 33 overall.
On Friday, they were named to the Associated Press’ prestigious All-Pro team.
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On Sunday, they will be arguably the two best defensive players on the field. Pending a trip to the Super Bowl, they’ll line up together as two of the NFC’s safeties at the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29.
“It’s a dream come true,” Clinton-Dix said.
After a solid rookie season and even better second season, Clinton-Dix was expected to have a breakout season in 2016. He obliged, earning second-team All-Pro honors. Clinton-Dix was first on the team with five interceptions and second with 83 tackles. Clinton-Dix, Collins, Houston’s Quintin Demps and Oakland’s Reggie Nelson tied for the NFL lead in interceptions among safeties.
Collins was a first-team All-Pro this year and could walk away with NFL Defensive Player of the Year because of his dominance at the line of scrimmage and deep coverage. Collins was the only player in the NFL with five-plus interceptions and four-plus sacks. He tied for first among safeties with 13 passes defensed (with Baltimore’s Eric Weddle) and ranked second among safeties with 125 tackles (Jacksonville’s Johnathan Cyprien had 127).
Remarkably, he’s the only player in NFL history with 100-plus solo tackles, two-plus sacks, five-plus interceptions and 12-plus passes defensed in a season.
“We’re like brothers,” Collins told reporters in New York this week. “That’s my boy. We train together and almost do everything together. We have the same agent. We do everything. That’s my boy.”
They almost weren’t boys. Clinton-Dix was starting at Alabama when he hosted Collins for his recruiting visit.
“He was the No. 1 safety coming out of college and I was too going into college,” Clinton-Dix recalled. “When he came in, (I told him) it’s a process that you have to buy into it. He took it from me as if I was saying, ‘Don’t come here.’ That’s what he thought I was telling, like, ‘Don’t come here. I don’t want you to take my spot.’ He came, bought into the process. He didn’t play much as a freshman, he was just on special teams — that’s part of the process, buying into the process and just waiting you turn. He did that, he came out in three years, was a top pick. He’s been growing from there. He’s been growing every year in this league.”
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So has Clinton-Dix, and not just on the field. Clinton-Dix, who turned 24 on Dec. 21, was voted by his peers as one of the team’s two playoff captains for the defense. The other is Julius Peppers, who will turn 37 on Jan. 18.
“He’s been a leader since he came in the door, but this year more specifically, he’s stepped up, he’s been a little more vocal,” Peppers said. “His play on the field, that’s the main thing. You’ve got to play well because, otherwise, what you say doesn’t mean anything. He’s backed his words up with his performance and he’s a great leader for us.”
Clinton-Dix would love to get an interception to wind up with bragging rights in that category. But more importantly, Clinton-Dix wants the bragging rights of another victory and a chance to play again next weekend.
“I wish him the best,” he said. “I hope he goes out and has a tremendous game and also takes an ‘L.’ I hope he plays good and has the time of his life on Sunday.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.