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Point of Veau: Packers May Get a Second-Tier Linebacker, but They Got a First-Tier Safety

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Point of Veau: Packers May Get a Second-Tier Linebacker, but They Got a First-Tier Safety

A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones may not be the best pair of inside linebackers in the NFL, but as it stood yesterday, they were a whole lot better than situation at safety with Morgan Burnett and a player to be announced.

When Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley came off the board by the time the Packers were on the clock with the 21st overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft, safety was the logical position for the team to address, and ultimately, the Green Bay defense is better today than it was just 24 hours ago.

By taking Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Packers got a multitalented safety to pair with Burnett in the secondary, which is infinite times better than the failed experiments of Jerron McMillian and M.D. Jennings from a year ago.

"First of all, he's got the versatility you look for at the safety position," said safeties coach Darren Perry. "He can play in the deep zone. He can play near the line of scrimmage. He's tough. He's plenty smart, so his football IQ is where you like it to be with a guy that you take at his position."

Clinton-Dix might be a better free safety and centerfield type of roamer, but he's flexible enough to be moved around and play in the box if need be. The same can be said of Burnett, and that's only going to help the Packers disguise coverages and play better defense than they did a year ago.

"In this system, you'd like to have some versatility at this position in terms of guys being able to play near the line of scrimmage and guys being able to play in the deep part of the zone, so you like his physicalness, you like his size," said Perry. "The kid can run, he can tackle."

When Packers coach Mike McCarthy was non-committal to Micah Hyde making a full-time transition to safety during the offseason, calling him merely "an option" at the NFL Combine, it spoke volumes.

McCarthy obviously wanted to wait until the NFL Draft played itself out, and now the Packers have a player that will step into the starting lineup from Day 1.

Hyde might be a player that can be a backup at safety, but by adding Clinton-Dix, the Packers can leave Hyde in his comfort zone as a slot cornerback in the team's nickel and dime packages, a win-win situation.

Playing in a division that already had plenty of tall, elite receivers such as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in Chicago and Eric Ebron joining Calvin Johnson in Detroit, the Packers will be better able to defend these types of players with Clinton-Dix in the picture.

"I'm very good in the post," said Clinton-Dix in the aftermath of being selected. "I'm very good at covering and helping out and double teaming, whatever a team needs, I'm good at doing. I'll make sure to learn that playbook and get comfortable and relaxed in myself and learn the system, and I think I'll do fine at helping the Green Bay Packers win."

In total, four safeties were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Had the Packers passed on safety in Round 1, there may have been exceedingly few good options later on.

The Packers could still use an infusion of talent at inside linebacker, but they're going to have to weigh that against adding one of the many receiving targets from a very deep draft class in the second round.

If the Packers want to add an inside linebacker, they could be looking at a conversion project from players used to playing on the outside such as Kyle Van Noy of BYU or Carl Bradford of Arizona State. Chris Borland of Wisconsin is another option if the Packers are comfortable with his shoulder.

There's still a ton of talent at the wide receiver position as players like Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson, Donte Moncrief and Cody Latimer all fell out of the first round. And only one tight end was taken on Day 1 of the draft, leaving Austin Seferian Jenkins, Troy Niklas and Jace Amaro still available.

And if the Packers can get the best center in this year's draft class to drop to them, Joel Bitonio, Marcus Martin and Weston Richburg all remain there for the taking.

Whichever direction Green Bay goes, they can at least rest easy that the defense as a whole is better with the free agent addition of Julius Peppers to pair with Clinton-Dix.

"I'm a great player," said Clinton-Dix. "I play fast. I'm a great tackler. Once I get there and learn the system, learn the type of defense and be comfortable, I think I'll be fine."

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

Photo: Adam Hunger—USA TODAY Sports.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (17) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

L's picture

I can't complain about the choice in the 1st round; I look forward to what day 2 brings. Go Packers!

ballark's picture

You have to think the Packers were thrilled with this pick, and that Ha Ha was their top-rated safety (even though tehy wouldn't admit to that).

I say this because of Ted's comments about "blow-up guys" (read: Pryor) hurting themselves and others, and drawing penalties. Second, Ward and Bucannon were still on the board and we went C-Dix.

I like the pick, in the sense that it's an immediate/obvious upgrade at a key position. But I suppose, like Carriveau, I never fell in love with C-Dix's tape (though it was good). Nevertheless, I look forward to him winning me over in Green and Yellow. On to tonight...

White92's picture

Love the confidence!

Zoellner25's picture

I love the pick. Great player and our greatest need. Glad he dropped to 21. Here's your wake up call, Morgan Burnett!

jh9's picture

I'm going to enjoy watching how the rest of the draft plays out. The most interesting part for me will be to see how TT responds to fill the obvious need at ILB.

The ILB position in this draft is very thin. With Mosley and Shazier gone it will be difficult to find someone in rounds 2-7 who can play in the NFL at a high level. This is going to be a real challenge for TT and will test his evaluator skills. Yarwin Smallwood might be one way to go, but I liked what I saw from LSU's Lamin Barrow. And a off-the-radar selection would be Carlos Fields Jr. from Winston-Salem.

L's picture

I was pretty high on Yarwin Smallwood, but I have to wonder where is a good place within the draft to consider him.

jh9's picture

To me, at this point there are no ILBs that really jump out. Because of that I would be looking to draft other need positions first - TE, DT, WR, CB, C. I wouldn't be looking to take a ILB until the 5th round. I know that's way late, but having Mosley and Shazier taken ahead of us sometimes you have to play the cards the way they're dealt. I would rather use the draft picks now to mine the depth of this draft rather than force the issue.

L's picture

Agreed, but I have faith that TT will never or rarely reach on a player so I'm not concerned that he would focus on grabbing an ILB when there are more talented players available who will give him better value in return for the pick.

In regards to Smallwood I was just curious where his projected draft stock had him going at? There were times prior to the combine where he was considered a potential major riser, but the hamstring pull during the 40 has apparently really hurt his draft stock.

jeremyjjbrown's picture

I don't want any ILB's who can't run fast. There's no point in drafting one, it's a wasted pick. Anyone who thinks it doesn't matter wasn't watching Seattle and San Fran play defense.

If that means we use Hawk, Jones, Lattimore and Barrington again it's fine by me. We have enough solid guys with limited speed, adding more has no value.

Stroh's picture

Carlos Fields ran a 4.5. Not shazier fast, but better than Mosley. If the Packers want him I would take him in the 4th. I think he'll easily be the next best playmaker at ILB in this draft. Kids got it and just needs to make the leap in competition. But his film was VERY impressive!

Take him please Ted!!

JimTaylor31's picture

I think Ted will have to take a flyer on somebody at ILB. May as well be Fields as anybody else that's left. The odds of an ILB, drafted at this point, making much of a contribution in 2014 are pretty slim so we'll just have to hope for a good ST guy who can develop. Actually, we'll have to hope that either Lattimore or Barrington have developed or it's back to the drawing board at ILB.

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

Spot on: GB could get a 1st tier LB or a 1st Tier FS with #21. I would have preferred getting one of the LBs because I thought there were some 2nd Tier Free Safeties available in Rd 2, and only 3rd Tier ILBs after Mosley and Shazier, barring conversion projects, of which I am tired, and because I thought Hyde might well be the answer at safety. Looks like other teams had higher grades on Bucannon and Ward than I did, both of whom I thought had an outside chance of being available in the 40s or 50s.

Going forward, I'd like to see GB take talent over need. Center worries me, but other than Bitonio, if he isn't a big conversion and can play center, I think in round 2 there is too much talent to take a center with the rich class of WRs, some TEs, maybe even some D-linemen, out there. Tonight will be interesting! I am looking to get 3 contributors (not just on ST) in year 1 with the potential to be starters year 2!

4thand1's picture

Tonight will be a blast. Look for some trading up and down.

ballark's picture

Yes, can not wait. Sooooo much good talent still on the board, it's ridiculous.

Do your thing, Ted Thompson!

tm_inter's picture

Since the ILB position in this draft is very thin, a linebacker may not be the best player available at pick 2.53. A wide receiver may be the bpa at that spot, keeping in mind that TT liked to draft wide receivers in the 2nd round (Greg Jennings, Jordi Nelson and Randall Cobb). Wide receivers who were picked in the 2nd round have worked out very well for the Packers. Why not keep that tradition up? We'll find the best TE and ILB in the 3rd round.

jh9's picture

Fanspeak updated their draft simulator. With all the talent left in this draft, tonight should be fun. I did two mocks for tonight and I would be happy with any of these players if we should get them:
53
TE TROY NIKLAS
NOTRE DAME
85
WR CODY LATIMER
INDIANA
98
CB PIERRE DESIR
LINDENWOOD

TE JACE AMARO
TEXAS TECH
85
C MARCUS MARTIN
USC
98
DT DAQUAN JONES
PENN STATE

L's picture

53
CB PHILLIP GAINES
RICE

85
TE CJ FIEDOROWICZ
IOWA

98
ILB YARWIN SMALLWOOD
UCONN

...hmmm... interesting.

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