Position: Free safety
Height/weight: 6’1”, 208 lbs.
The Cowboys need help all over with a defense that was downright abysmal in 2013. My last “Draft Focus” covered Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, and, while nothing has changed and the defensive line is an area of need, shoring up the free safety position would also be a worthwhile use of Dallas’s first round pick. Alabama safety Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix is widely regarded as the top safety in this year’s draft.
Clinton-Dix was a decorated five-star recruit out of Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla. According to his Alabama athletics profile, he was one of just seven true freshmen to earn playing time for the 2011 Crimson Tide, who went on to win a National Championship. Clinton-Dix intercepted five passes and deflected nine more in his sophomore season in 2012 before picking off just two passes in his junior campaign. He made 14 more tackles in his final season with the Tide, despite serving a two-game suspension for a “violation of team rules.”
Why he’s a good fit for the Cowboys
Dallas needs a talented safety to man the defensive backfield with strong safety Barry Church. The free safety position was a revolving door of sorts last season with the likes of Will Allen, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath.
The ‘Boys have allowed the second-highest completion percentage on passes that travel 15 yards or more over the past four seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Clinton-Dix is a ball-hawking safety that could help reverse that trend.
“Instinctive and fluid, he’s the top free safety option in the draft and has proven he can play Cover 1 against teams looking to exploit him by working the perimeter,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper wrote. “He reads the quarterback well and can accelerate or turn quickly to make plays in any direction.”
The ‘Boys haven’t had a consistent safety since Darren Woodson wore the silver and blue -- save a few good years from Roy Williams, who was the last safety Dallas drafted in the first round 12 years ago -- and a duo of Clinton-Dix and Church could go a long way toward ameliorating the mess that has been the Cowboys’ defensive backfield in recent years.
Risk vs. Reward
The asset that sets Clinton-Dix apart is his explosiveness and closing speed. While his aggressiveness makes him susceptible to play fakes, his ability to close on the ball will make up for the occasional misread. He covers a lot of ground against the run and pass, as seen in footage from the LSU game in 2013
For a porous Dallas D, the reward significantly outweighs the risk with Clinton-Dix.
If the Cowboys have their hearts set on upgrading the safety position via the draft, the first round may be the time to do it. There is a deeper pool of defensive line prospects in this year’s draft, so the odds of landing a game-changer on the front seven in the later rounds is a little higher. If Clinton-Dix is still on the board at no. 16, the ‘Boys have the chance to pick up a rare talent and fill an area of need by selecting him.