Can Clinton-Dix Overcome Tide Draft History?

Can Clinton-Dix Overcome Tide Draft History?

Perhaps Nick Saban's brilliance as a collegiate coach has been working against his defenders once they reach the NFL. Time and again, high-profile Crimson Tide defenders have fallen short upon reaching the NFL. What does that mean for first-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix?

Including 2014 first-round picks C.J. Mosley and HaHa Clinton-Dix, 23 players from Alabama's powerhouse defenses have been drafted since Nick Saban took over the Crimson Tide in 2007.

Of the 18 veterans, just one has been selected to a Pro Bowl. None were named a first-team All-Pro.

Just one averages at least three sacks per season. Only one averages at least two interceptions per season. There have been no 100-tackle seasons.

Three are out of the league and two haven't played a professional snap.

Of the veterans, seven were selected in the first round and three others in the second. In that 10-player group, it could be argued that only Buffalo's Marcell Dareus has played to expectations. On the other hand, safety Mark Barron (No. 7 to Tampa Bay in 2012), middle linebacker Rolando McClain (No. 8 to Oakland in 2010) and cornerback Dee Milliner (No. 9 to the Jets in 2013) have been disappointments, based on their lofty draft status.

That draft history is one of the reasons why the NFL's head scout, Dave-Te' Thomas, called Clinton-Dix — the Green Bay Packers' first-round draft pick — the "most overrated" safety in this year's draft.

"It's not that I don't like Clinton-Dix, but I look at the lack of success of Alabama players in recent years — especially in the secondary," Thomas said. "Right now, the Jets are openly questioning themselves for taking Milliner last year. I know Cincinnati's regretting taking (Dre) Kirkpatrick. And Barron's been OK in Tampa. Go around the league and look at the players coached by Nick Saban since 2007. Find me one quality defensive player that's come out of that program other than Marcell Dareus. They come out and it's like they left everything that they had out on the college football field."

Several factors play a part in that draft history.

Saban is seen as such a good coach that some scouts believe Crimson Tide defenders have hit their ceiling — or are at least closer to that ceiling than players from other schools.

Another scout, echoing Thomas' line about leaving everything on the field, worried about the injury history coming from the program. Of the five Alabama defenders drafted in 2013, Milliner played in 13 games and the other four played in a combined total of 10. Of the six Alabama defenders drafted in 2012, only Courtney Upshaw has played in all 32 games and only Upshaw, Barron (30) and Dont'a Hightower (30) have played in more than 20 games.

Another scout praised Saban's coaching but questioned the football IQ of his players. "Watch yourself with Alabama guys because if you blew in their left ear, you'd feel the draft coming out of their right," he said before the draft. The Packers have spoke highly of Clinton-Dix's intelligence, but the scout said he was fooled frequently by misdirection.

Scouting and projecting Alabama defenders is something of a double-edged sword for NFL talent evaluators. On one hand, Saban's complex, NFL-caliber system allows scouts to see players using the techniques and playing the schemes they'll be exposed to in the NFL. That limits the amount of projecting that scouts must do. On the other hand, Alabama's defense is so loaded in talent that it calls to mind the phrase, "a rising tide lifts all boats." Is a player as good as he looks on tape, or does the strong supporting cast make the player look better than he is?

"I'd make a couple points," Phil Savage, the former NFL general manager and current executive director of the Senior Bowl and analyst on Alabama radio broadcasts, said when asked about the recent draft history of Alabama defensive players.

"You're right, you have to grade each individual player for who they are. You have to really analyze how much growth is left in that prospect moving forward. I think you have to factor in their maturity level making the transition from college to the NFL. The other thing that happens is when you watch Alabama tape, you get to see these players do pro-type things. It's not as difficult of a projection. What a scout doesn't factor in sometimes is there are really good players at the other seven, eight, nine, 10 other positions and so you have to really analyze, 'How is this player as a stand-alone talent? How will he play on an island in the NFL?'"

From 2008 through 2013, eight Alabama defensive backs were selected: Barron, Milliner, Kirkpatrick and cornerback Kareem Jackson in the first round, cornerback Javier Arenas in the second, safety Rashad Johnson in the third, cornerback DeQuan Menzie in the fifth and cornerback Marquis Johnson in the seventh. None have played to their draft status, though it's obviously too early to write their NFL tombstones. Perhaps the Buccaneers' hiring of Lovie Smith will be what Barron needs, for instance.

What does all of this mean for Clinton-Dix, a player who had a so-so 2013 season and a ho-hum performance at the Scouting Combine?

"I personally believe HaHa projects well to the league because he's got such good range and he's got coverage skills," Savage said. "I think he will do very well in the NFL."

After the selection of Clinton-Dix, general manager Ted Thompson said Clinton-Dix has shown an ability to cover from the slot, support the run and play deep coverage. He was the two-way safety who best fit defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme.

Asked about the poor history of Alabama defenders in the draft, Thompson instead focused on the success of Rookie of the Year running back Eddie Lacy.

"We think (Clinton-Dix) has very good upside," Thompson said. "He's had great coaching. We had good success with a Crimson Tide we took last year (Lacy), and we feel like this is a really good football player, and we felt fortunate that he was there available."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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