GREEN BAY (AP) – The Packers are banking on another former Alabama star to give their team a boost.
Green Bay picked Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st overall pick of the NFL draft Thursday night, adding a hard-hitting safety to a defense that needed playmakers. He had 51 tackles and two interceptions as a junior in 2013, his first season as a full-time starter for Alabama.
He’ll join fellow former Crimson Tide star running back Eddie Lacy in Green Bay.
“Welcome to the pack … good to have ya out here,” Lacy posted on Twitter.
The 6-foot-1 Clinton-Dix is considered to be disciplined player with good ball skills, though not especially fast or athletic. Still, he figures to strengthen the secondary. The Packers didn’t get an interception from their safeties last year.
“I think he’s a real all-purpose kind of safety. He’s shown the ability to cover guys in the slot, good in support, physical player,” said general manager Ted Thompson.
The Packers wanted to find impact players on defense in the offseason. They added veteran Julius Peppers to complement Clay Matthews on the pass rush.
On paper at least, Green Bay appears to have added playmakers that coach Mike McCarthy sought after the 23-20 loss in an NFC wild-card game to the San Francisco 49ers. Once again, dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick burned the defense for big plays.
He should help out in a secondary that must contend with receivers Calvin Johnson in Detroit and Brandon Marshall in Chicago. Clinton-Dix said he spent much of his sophomore season covering the deep middle and slot, before Alabama coach Nick Saban moved him around the field more as a junior.
“He’s got the versatility that you look for in the safety,” Packers safety coach Darren Perry said. “He’s tough. He’s plenty smart. His football IQ is where you like it to be.”
Inside linebacker was one of the Packers’ biggest needs. But two of the top prospects at that position were gone by the time Green Bay was up after the Steelers took Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier with the 15th pick and the Ravens selected Alabama’s C.J. Mosley two picks later.
Clinton-Dix was still there at No. 21, though Thompson said he spoke to a “lot of teams” when asked if he took trade calls. Quarterback Johnny Manziel was still on the board at the time – someone the Packers didn’t need with Aaron Rodgers running the offense.
Instead, Thompson said he took someone that fit the Packers’ philosophy of selecting the best available player who also filled a position of need.
“We think he’s got very, very good ball skills,” Thompson said. “It fit very well for us.”
Green Bay still has a chance to add at linebacker and another positional need at tight end on Day 2 of the draft Friday. The Packers entered the draft with four selections in the top 100 for the first time since 2009.
Injuries did play a role in sapping the Packers last year. Rodgers also missed nearly two months because of a collarbone injury, while receiver Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley also missed significant time with injuries.
Still, Green Bay won a third straight NFC North title and finished 8-7-1.
Matthews is recovering from a thumb injury that sidelined him for much of 2013. A hamstring injury sidelined promising cornerback Casey Hayward. Green Bay hopes those two key players will be ready to go for the fall.
Peppers should fortify the pass rush. B.J. Raji was re-signed on the defensive line, and Sam Shields was re-signed at cornerback.
Until the draft, safety remained a concern. Morgan Burnett missed the first few games of 2013 with a hamstring injury. M.D. Jennings left for Chicago via free agency after a disappointing year. Neither of them came up with a pick.
Clinton-Dix did miss couple of games last season because of suspension for breaking an NCAA rule. Otherwise, he had an excellent 2013 season and finished with 100 tackles and seven interceptions in 38 career games.