Alabama safety’s versatility is attractive to NFL teams

05/08/2014 11:11 AM

05/08/2014 11:11 AM

It should probably come as no surprise that Alabama star safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gets a lot of a questions about his name.

It is unique, to be sure, though Ha Ha is just a nickname. His first name is actually Ha'Sean (pronounced Ha-Seen), which has been tripping people up since he was a kid.

“So people got mixed up a lot.” Clinton-Dix said.

But around the age of three or four, Clinton-Dix said, his grandma gave him the nickname that has stuck with him ever since. In many ways, it's fitting — a memorable name for a memorable player, someone whose all-around skills have excited draft analysts for the better part of two years.

“I think he's one of the top free safeties to come out in the last several years,” NFL.com's Mike Mayock said.

Clinton-Dix certainly has the pedigree. At 6 feet 1 and 208 pounds, he looks the part of a modern NFL safety, and during his time at Alabama under coach Nick Saban, he got a chance to hone his craft in multiple roles.

“My sophomore year I wasn't in the box that much, but my junior year I feel like I got involved in the box a lot and was able to make a lot of tackles in the box,” Clinton-Dix said.

As a sophomore in 2012, Clinton-Dix had 37 tackles, four pass breakups and five interceptions playing primarily a centerfield role. When he started playing in the box more as a junior in 2013, he saw his tackles go up to 51 but his interceptions go down to two.

However, with several teams looking to emulate Seattle's defensive success last season, which was keyed by a swift, hard-hitting free safety in Earl Thomas and an imposing, hard-hitting strong safety in Kam Chancellor, Clinton-Dix's versatility is especially attractive, even when compared to the other top safety in the draft, Louisville's hard-hitting Calvin Pryor.

“I want the ballhawk,” NFL.com draft analyst Charles Davis said, when asked to compare the two. “I want the guy with range. I want the center field guys, the Willie Mays guy. Not to say that Clinton-Dix doesn't tackle, he does. Not to say he can't cover man, hasn't had to do much of that at Alabama. But I like his range, I like his sideline-to-sideline play.

“Can Calvin Pryor do those things? Yeah. But Calvin Pryor, to me, fits a little bit more of closer to the line of scrimmage … that's why I have Clinton-Dix rated a little bit ahead of Pryor.”

To his credit, Clinton-Dix was complimentary of Pryor at the combine.

“CP is a rare player, he plays fast,” Clinton-Dix said. “He's always around the ball. He can hit. He's a physical person. So if I compare myself, I'd just say I'm very quick.”

However, Clinton-Dix maintains that the one thing that separates him from the rest of the safeties in this year's draft — besides his memorable nickname — is his experience in Saban's system.

“Well, there's a lot of good prospects out there, but I think what separates me from the rest of them is the system I played in,” Clinton-Dix said. “Like I said, Coach Saban's system is very hard. It took me my entire freshman year to learn that system. And I think that's what separates me.”

Top 10 prospects for the Chiefs

1. Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, 6-1, 208, Alabama

Bio:

Two-year starter who declared for the draft after a junior season in which he had 51 tackles, four pass breakups and two interceptions in 2013. Is 21 years old. 32 3/8-inch arms. 9-inch hands. 4.58 40-yard dash. 11 bench reps. 33-inch vertical. 119-inch broad. 7.16 3-cone drill. 4.16 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus*:

Looks the part — good size and long arms. Marries very good instincts with good range and athleticism, though his combine numbers were a bit of a disappointment. Flashes playmaking ability and good hands but needs to be more consistent. Not a big hitter but is a reliable tackler.

2. Terrence Brooks, 5-11, 198, Florida State

Bio:

Two-year starter who had 56 tackles, five pass breakups and two interceptions in 2013. Is 23 years old. 31-inch arms. 9-inch hands. 4.42 40-yard dash. 10 bench reps. 38-inch vertical. 119-inch broad. 7.35 3-cone drill. 4.56 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Has good timed speed (4.42) and has the range to play centerfield. Fluid. Willing but somewhat inconsistent tackler. Instincts are solid. Only OK in man coverage. Ball skills are average at best.

3. Brock Vereen, Minnesota, 6-0, 199

Bio:

Three-year starter who had 64 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions in 2013. Is 21 years old. 30-inch arms. 8 1/4-inch hands. 4.47 40-yard dash. 25 bench reps. 34-inch vertical. 117-inch broad. 6.90 3-cone drill. 4.07 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Brother, Shane, plays for New England. Workout warrior, has legit athleticism. Plays hard. Solid instincts. Excellent intangibles. Durable. Is not a big hitter and ball skils are average at best, though he can hold his own in man or zone coverage.

4. Dez Southward, 6-0, 211, Wisconsin

Bio:

Two-year starter who had 40 tackles, five pass breakups and one interception in 2013. 30 5/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 4.38 40-yard dash. Did not bench due to injury. 42-inch vertical. 124-inch broad. 6.50 3-cone drill. 4.37 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Good size and killer timed speed (4.38). Workout warrior. Has some man coverage ability. Range is just average. Only two career interceptions. Instincts need to improve. Tackling is fine but is not a big hitter.

5. Marqueston Huff, 5-11, 196, Wyoming

Bio:

Three-year starter who had 57 tackles, seven pass breakups and zero interceptions in 2013. Is 22 years old. 31 3/8-inch arms. 9-inch hands. 4.49 40-yard dash. 15 bench reps. 35 1/2-inch vertical. 118-inch broad. 7.26 3-cone drill. 4.19 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Was moved from cornerback to free safety in 2013. Has experience playing single-high coverage but instincts are still developing. Good athlete, has the speed and range to play centerfield. Tackling is average at best. Inconsistent. Some teams may prefer him at corner. Durable.

6. Jonathan Dowling, 6-3, 190, Western Kentucky

Bio:

Two-year starter who had 67 tackles, seven pass breakups and three interceptions in 2013. 3 1/8-inch arms. 9 1/4-inch hands. 4.52 40-yard dash. 8 bench reps. 33 1/2-inch vertical. 118-inch broad. 7.04 3-cone drill. 4.24 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Great size and frame. Has the speed, athleticism and range to play centerfield. Boasts nice ball skills — has been productive creating turnovers. Needs to be more consistent as a tackler. Can be undisciplined and make mental mistakes. Some have concerns about his maturity. Does a lot of talking on the field.

7. Alden Darby, 5-10, 192, Arizona State

Bio:

Two-year starter who had 72 tackles, nine pass breakups and four interceptions in 2013. Is 21 years old. 4.65 40-yard dash. 34-inch vertical. 121-inch broad. 6.97 3-cone drill. 4.32 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Undersized but is a good athlete and is light on his feet. Instincts are uneven but he has decent range and ball skills. Made secondary calls. Could be bullied by bigger targets.Needs to be stronger and more consistent in run support. Excellent intangibles. Has experience at cornerback.

8. Jemea Thomas, 5-9, 192, Georgia Tech

Bio:

Two-year starter who had 88 tackles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions in 2013. Is 24 years old. 30 5/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 4.55 40-yard dash. 19 bench reps. 37-inch vertical. 125-inch broad. 7.03 3-cone drill. 4.25 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Short and old for a rookie (24). Worked out well at the combine. Very good instincts and a willing tackler, despite his size. Range is only OK, but is fine in zone and flies around. Has shown decent ball skills (nine career interceptions). Is often around the ball. Has experience at corner.

9. Tre Boston, 6-0, 204, North Carolina

Bio:

Three-year starter who had 94 tackles, eight pass breakups and five interceptions in 2013. 35-inch arms. 9 3/4-inch hands. 4.59 40-yard dash. 18 bench reps. 35-inch vertical. 116-inch broad. 7.04 3-cone drill. 4.31 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Good frame. Experienced and productive. Instincts and range only OK, though he has flashed very good ball skills (13 career interceptions). Needs to be more consistent against the run. Vocal leader, by all accounts. Scouts differ on his consistency when it comes to tackling.

10. Ed Reynolds, 6-1, 207, Stanford

Bio:

Two-year starter who had 87 tackles, four pass breakups and one interception in 2013. Is 22 years old. 30 3/4-inch arms. 8 1/2-inch hands. 4.57 40-yard dash. 15 bench reps. 32 1/2-inch vertical. 117-inch broad. 7.18 3-cone drill. 4.49 20-yard shuttle.

Consensus:

Good size and bulk, but is not great athlete and is not natural in coverage. Does have good instincts. Had a better season in 2012, when he had six interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns. Father played in the NFL. Decent in run support.

*All evaluations and rankings are based largely on multiple draft profiles — thanks to NFL.com, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and DraftNasty’s 2014 NFL Draft Manual — interviews with draft analysts and the author’s own film evaluations. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to the resources listed above and NFLDraftScout.com.

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