Green Bay Packers beat writer Paul Imig will be analyzing the 25 most important players to the Packers’ success in the 2014 season. Check back each weekday to see the latest player on the list. You can find the entire list here.
NOTE: This is not a list of the team’s 25 best players, but rather it’s a list of which players mean the most to how Green Bay will fare this year. Criteria such as depth at that player’s position, general expectations and overall importance of that player having a good season are all highly considered.
NO. 8 — HA HA CLINTON-DIX, SAFETY
AGE / EXPERIENCE
21 / Rookie
WHY HE’S NO. 8
First-round picks are always looked at in a different way than the rest of the rookies. For example, A.J. Hawk has always been graded on a more difficult curve because of that reason, and players like Derek Sherrod and Nick Perry aren’t given the same leeway as players who were drafted in later rounds. That’s the boat that Ha Ha Clinton-Dix finds himself in.
Clinton-Dix is held in an even higher regard because he plays the position that the Green Bay Packers needed to address the most. It’s a position that struggled mightily in 2013, a year that included the entire safety group not recording a single interception. Plus, though he was the second safety selected in this year’s draft, many thought of him as the best in the class and a player who should have gone earlier than the No. 21 spot.
Though it’s a lot of pressure on a rookie, Clinton-Dix is No. 8 on this list because he was brought in to be a significant factor in turning around a position group that needs to quickly turn around. The Packers can’t wait until Year 3 of his career to get positive results out of him. It needs to happen right away, and Clinton-Dix has the talent to deliver on that.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2014
Clinton-Dix shouldn’t be expected to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player or even the best safety in Green Bay, at least not right away. He shouldn’t be expected to be Nick Collins yet. Collins is the player that the Packers are still looking to replace after a neck injury cut his career short. It’s very possible that Green Bay never would have even thought about drafting Clinton-Dix had it not been for that Collins injury three years ago. It will likely take Clinton-Dix time to become as good of a player as Collins was, and perhaps he’ll never reach that status.
What can be reasonably expected from Clinton-Dix in 2014, however, is that he wins the starting safety job alongside Morgan Burnett and shows glimpses of being a very good player for the Packers in the years to come. A flashy play here, an interception there; defining moments that show he’s getting it.
Green Bay can’t afford to have Clinton-Dix go through a rookie season in which he is invisible. Some type of impact needs to be made. General manager Ted Thompson hasn’t exactly been having a lot of success with first-round picks in recent years, but that needs to change this year with Clinton-Dix.
WHAT WOULD THEY DO WITHOUT HIM?
Minicamp is a long way from the regular season, but it was Micah Hyde, not Clinton-Dix, who was starting at safety with Burnett. The Packers are determined to keep Hyde on the field for nearly every snap of every game. The team has identified Hyde as one of its best 11 defensive players, and some of his work will include safety. But if it only takes Hyde less than one full season to convince Green Bay’s coaching staff that he’s a top-11 player, then Clinton-Dix shouldn’t have a problem doing the exact same thing.
Having Hyde play a hybrid role that includes safety is a really good insurance policy for Clinton-Dix, though. Hyde hasn’t proven himself at safety yet, but the Packers are confident that he’ll figure it out quickly.
While no other player in the safety group will be held to the same high standards as Clinton-Dix, Hyde and Burnett, Green Bay does have Sean Richardson and Chris Banjo back. There is also undrafted rookies Tanner Miller and Charles Clay who could enter the equation with a strong training camp performance.