A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones may not be the best pair of inside linebackers in the NFL, but as it stood yesterday, they were a whole lot better than situation at safety with Morgan Burnett and a player to be announced.
When Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley came off the board by the time the Packers were on the clock with the 21st overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, safety was the logical position for the team to address, and ultimately, the Green Bay defense is better today than it was just 24 hours ago.
By taking Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Packers got a multitalented safety to pair with Burnett in the secondary, which is infinite times better than the failed experiments of Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings from a year ago.
"First of all, he's got the versatility you look for at the safety position," said safeties coach Darren Perry. "He can play in the deep zone. He can play near the line of scrimmage. He's tough. He's plenty smart, so his football IQ is where you like it to be with a guy that you take at his position."
Clinton-Dix might be a better free safety and centerfield type of roamer, but he's flexible enough to be moved around and play in the box if need be. The same can be said of Burnett, and that's only going to help the Packers disguise coverages and play better defense than they did a year ago.
"In this system, you'd like to have some versatility at this position in terms of guys being able to play near the line of scrimmage and guys being able to play in the deep part of the zone, so you like his physicalness, you like his size," said Perry. "The kid can run, he can tackle."
When Packers coach Mike McCarthy was non-committal to Micah Hyde making a full-time transition to safety during the offseason, calling him merely "an option" at the NFL Combine, it spoke volumes.
McCarthy obviously wanted to wait until the NFL Draft played itself out, and now the Packers have a player that will step into the starting lineup from Day 1.
Hyde might be a player that can be a backup at safety, but by adding Clinton-Dix, the Packers can leave Hyde in his comfort zone as a slot cornerback in the team's nickel and dime packages, a win-win situation.
Playing in a division that already had plenty of tall, elite receivers such as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago and Eric Ebron joining Calvin Johnson in Detroit, the Packers will be better able to defend these types of players with Clinton-Dix in the picture.
"I'm very good in the post," said Clinton-Dix in the aftermath of being selected. "I'm very good at covering and helping out and double teaming, whatever a team needs, I'm good at doing. I'll make sure to learn that playbook and get comfortable and relaxed in myself and learn the system, and I think I'll do fine at helping the Green Bay Packers win."
In total, four safeties were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Had the Packers passed on safety in Round 1, there may have been exceedingly few good options later on.
The Packers could still use an infusion of talent at inside linebacker, but they're going to have to weigh that against adding one of the many receiving targets from a very deep draft class in the second round.
If the Packers want to add an inside linebacker, they could be looking at a conversion project from players used to playing on the outside such as Kyle Van Noy of BYU or Carl Bradford of Arizona State. Chris Borland of Wisconsin is another option if the Packers are comfortable with his shoulder.
There's still a ton of talent at the wide receiver position as players like Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson, Donte Moncrief and Cody Latimer all fell out of the first round. And only one tight end was taken on Day 1 of the draft, leaving Austin Seferian Jenkins, Troy Niklas and Jace Amaro still available.
And if the Packers can get the best center in this year's draft class to drop to them, Joel Bitonio, Marcus Martin and Weston Richburg all remain there for the taking.
Whichever direction Green Bay goes, they can at least rest easy that the defense as a whole is better with the free agent addition of Julius Peppers to pair with Clinton-Dix.
"I'm a great player," said Clinton-Dix. "I play fast. I'm a great tackler. Once I get there and learn the system, learn the type of defense and be comfortable, I think I'll be fine."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
Photo: Adam Hunger—USA TODAY Sports.
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