(Editor's Note: Heading into the upcoming NFL Draft, held May 8-10, DallasCowboys.com will take a closer look at the prospects, including some that could be potential fits with the Cowboys. Today's featured player is Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix).
Honors: As a junior starter in 2013, Clinton-Dix was one of the consensus best defenders in the nation. His 46 tackles and two interceptions earned him first-team All-SEC and All-American honors, despite serving a two-game suspension during the season. He also earned SEC and national championship rings as a member of Alabama's 2011 and 2012 championship squads.
Key stat:Clinton-Dix's abilities in coverage have drawn praise, as many scouts consider him a center fielder-type safety. Although he managed just two picks in 2013, he did intercept five balls during his junior campaign.
Where He's Projected:Depending on who you ask, Clinton-Dix is either the best or second-best safety in this draft – coupled with Louisville's Calvin Pryor. Both players are considered locks to go in the first round, and the drop off to the next-best safety after them looks considerable. It's a pretty safe bet Clinton-Dix won't last too far past the middle of the first round – if he makes it that far.
How He Helps the Cowboys:The play of rookie safeties J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath wasn't exactly inspiring for anyone that watched the Cowboys last fall. It's true that both players were rookies, and it's also true that the Cowboys just spent a third round pick on Wilcox. There's still a common opinion that this team doesn't have a good cover guy among its safeties. A player as talented as Clinton-Dix would have to be considered a good bet to vie for a starting spot, despite his shortcomings.
Scout's Take: Like all defenders in Nick Saban's Alabama scheme, this guy is not afraid to mix it up. He'll come forward to force the run -- a downhill player that will get to the ball. [embedded_ad]
He has shown at times that he doesn't take great angles, and that will put him in some awkward positions. But when he does take the correct path, he will wrap the ball carrier up – and I have also seen him use a block down tackle or low tackle in space.
Clinton-Dix is one of those players that will hustle to chase the play -- no matter where the ball is, he is going to be running. He will throw his body around, and he showed the ability to take on blocks off the edge and work to the ball.
He has some Barry Church in him, in the sense that he will try and go for the strip to try and cause a turnover. He can separate the ball with a big hit and is not afraid to light the ball carrier up. In the same way, he will play down in the box and get in the middle of the action.
Clinton-Dix does a nice job of reacting to the ball in front of him. When he sees it, he goes after it – he can pedal, plant and come forward.
One of his strengths in coverage is his awareness in getting to the flat. He reads the backs and tight ends in routes. In Alabama's game tape against Texas A&M, he did his best to come off the hash to defend a ball along the sideline. He tried to get there but arrived a step late. You don't see him put in many situations where he has to cover, but he plays like he has smarts and awareness. He did show better range in A&M game than any of the other ones.
I respect his game because of how physical he can be at times. And if you'll remember, a similar Alabama safety that Tampa took named Mark Barron wasn't put in many coverage situations while in college.
He will no doubt need some experience here. I see him more as a strong safety than as a free in this scheme.