Throughout the draft process, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen will take a closer look at some of the top prospects in the 2014 class. Today he breaks down Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Clinton-Dix plays at a 4.5-4.55 speed on tape, but I’m more concerned with his range and ability to identify offensive concepts. Give me a free safety who can read his run/pass keys, get his eyes back to the quarterback and break on the football to get over the top of the 9 (fade) or close the middle of the field versus the post/seam.
At 6’1", 208 pounds, Clinton-Dix displays solid awareness in the deep middle of the field versus inside breaking routes—think of the deep dig, for example—and he can get off the Cover 2 landmark (two yards on top of the numbers in college) to play the 7 (corner) or eliminate the quick fade.
This allows the Alabama product to come out of his breaks and showcase his range/closing speed to the football. That’s a plus when looking for a safety who will impact the intermediate-to-deep route tree because of his ability to read through the quarterback with vision and display a solid transition (or burst) out of his pedal.
Clinton-Dix doesn’t have the talent of an Earl Thomas when breaking down the top-tier range and speed of the Seahawks free safety, but he can make plays from the middle of the field/deep half and drive on the football. The top safety on Matt Miller's board has a skill set that NFL teams across the league are looking for in today’s game.
Coverage Ability/Ball Skills
Clinton-Dix can play blitz-man or roll down over a tight end/slot receiver from an off-man position because he is patient with his footwork (ability to flat-foot read) and has the flexibility in his hips to change direction or turn and run versus the vertical passing game.
I do believe Clinton-Dix can be coached up at the NFL level to use his length/size from a press-man position. This will give the safety the opportunity to challenge receivers/tight ends on the release while using that length to gain control throughout the route stem.
A part of the developmental process that should pair with his ability as a deep middle-of-the-field defender to allow defensive coordinators to use him creatively within the scheme.
Clinton-Dix adjusts well to the ball at the point of attack to finish plays (seven interceptions in 19 career starts at Alabama). An aggressive defender when breaking on the throw, he can get caught rounding his cuts/taking a lateral angle to the ball as zone defender. However, I’ve seen enough on tape to know that Clinton-Dix will generate positive angles to put himself in a position to impact the route or deliver a blow on contact.
In the NFL, coaches/scouts want safeties who capitalize on big-play opportunities, and his tape from Alabama (versus SEC competition) shows that he can get to the football.
Clinton-Dix is a solid tackler who will wrap up and establish the proper leverage point to get the ball-carrier on the ground. And while he isn’t a dominant, physical presence when he drops down into the box, he does display a good feel for the run front and will use his hands to shed blockers.
He can deliver a violent strike when he comes downhill on the ball-carrier from a deep middle-of-the-field/deep-half alignment, but there are times when he needs to show more balance and control his angles against the run game in the open field.
I do believe Clinton-Dix can improve as a run defender. Remember, this is all about angles and technique at the point of attack. But there is no doubt he can build off the solid tackling base he will bring to the next level from Nick Saban’s program.
Along with Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, I would expect Clinton-Dix to carry a mid-to-late first-round grade heading into the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis later this month. And if the Alabama product tests well (to reinforce what shows up on the tape), he should hear his name called on the first night of the draft this May.
With the safety position becoming a premium spot on NFL rosters to counter the matchups/creativity of offenses in today’s game, Clinton-Dix has the range, ball skills and game speed that should translate to the NFL where he can compete to become a Day 1 starter.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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