Over the past two weeks, we have broken down the Packers' roster position-by-position. Today, we wrap up our analysis with the safeties. Check here for the full list of our positional breakdowns.
To say the Green Bay Packers were lacking at the safety position at the end of the 2013 season would be an understatement.
There is no other way to put it: the Packers were downright putrid at the position. M.D. Jennings didn't resemble anything close to a competent NFL safety and he was so bad he also dragged Morgan Burnett down with him.
General manager Ted Thompson had seen enough. He kept Burnett, and Jennings was not re-signed. "The Doctor" was out and Thompson soon sent in a clown.
The "clown" is rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was selected by the Packers in the first round of the NFL Draft back in May. Don't let the name fool you. The selection of Clinton-Dix was no laughing matter for a team who desperately need an upgrade at the safety position.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
How acquired: First-round draft pick (#21 overall)
Contract Details: 4 years, $8.338.501 (with 5th-year option)
2014 contract: $420,000 base salary (guaranteed), $4,384,364 signing bonus; $1.52M salary cap hit
Clinton-Dix started the 2014 season where most rookies usually should: on the bench. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was going to make the Alabama rookie earn his spot in the starting lineup as Green Bay opened the regular season with Burnett and Micah Hyde as the starting safeties.
Hyde didn't fare too badly, but he couldn't keep Clinton-Dix on the bench for long. His first start was in Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers. It quickly became obvious that he was more than just the "center field" safety the Packers drafted him to be. He was willing to play at the line of scrimmage and stick his nose in the run game.
Oh, and Clinton-Dix loved hitting people. He loved hitting opponents so much that sometimes he'd miss a player completely going for the kill shot rather than just simply wrapping his man up and taking him down. This remains his biggest area of opportunity for 2015, though it could arguably be the same for the whole back seven of the defense.
Clinton-Dix also did something no Packer safety had done since late in the 2012 season: he intercepted a pass! He got his first career interception in Week 3 against Detroit and that play alone basically sealed him as an upgrade over the departed Jennings.
He did much more than that, however. Thanks to Clinton-Dix's presence on the field, Burnett experienced a bit of a rebound year. He's always been at his best with a competent safety next to him (Charles Woodson) so the fact Burnett was able to elevate his game speaks volumes about what Clinton-Dix brought to table.
Overall grade: B+
Given how bad the Packers were at safety in 2013, they really had nowhere else to go but up. That being said, Clinton-Dix really showed a lot of promise in his rookie season. He didn't plateau, which is huge in a player's first season, and got better each week. The fact he isn't afraid to play in either the secondary or at the line of scrimmage shows potential for being a versatile piece of a defense that thrived on moving players all over the field.
He wasn't the liability Jennings was and he even helped elevate the play of the veteran Burnett. Clinton-Dix didn't commit too many stupid penalties either, which is a big trap some rookies fall into on defense.
The Packers have been searching for a replacement for Nick Collins ever since he went down with a neck injury in 2011. While it is far too early to say Clinton-Dix is Collins' heir, he showed enough in year one to warrant excitement about his second season. Good players make a leap in performance from year one to year two, so 2015 could be a special one for Clinton-Dix.