Coming into the 2012 season, there was a lot of interest in safety Robert Lester as it pertained to the NFL Draft and where he could take his game as a senior, but sophomore Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix not only took much of the focus but was the better player. Dix and Lester play a brand of hybrid safety that has been extremely attractive to the NFL in recent years and Dix could be the next in line to carry on that tradition. Lester, along with their talented cornerback Dee Milliner, are now in the NFL which will only increase the amount of responsibility for Dix to step up as a leader and playmaker on the back end of the Tide defense.
The Tide’s defensive style is largely the reason Dix only had 23 solo tackles but he also had 4 interceptions, 4 pass deflections, and a forced fumble. Dix’s physical ability and build are terrific but he has shown to be an up and coming player as a run and pass defender with natural ball skills. He could be a guy who has a less impactful year on the stat sheet but actually plays better this year as teams will do more to avoid him; he is not catching anyone by surprise this year after having his coming out party last season. Dix is a top 50 player based on what he has done to this point, but he could easily improve his technique and become more efficient as a player and push himself into the first round conversation and potentially have a similar climb up draft boards that Mark Barron had when he was in Tuscaloosa while Dix was a freshman.
Vitals & Build
Dix is listed at 6’1” 208lbs and appears to have fantastic triangle numbers for the position. His size, strength, speed, and quickness are all prototypical and he has the ability to fly all over the field and covers a ton of ground. He looks NFL ready now in terms of his strength and athleticism but he is still only going to be a junior, so it will be interesting to see how much farther he can go before he enters the NFL Draft.
Dix is still developing as a tackler and has some good habits that will help him going forward but makes some of the same mistakes over and over that need to be addressed. The most important thing Dix does right is he comes up as fast as he can to the line of scrimmage but he does not just throw himself at the ball carrier. Rather, he gets in position extremely quickly and then breaks down to then attack the ball carrier, which is exactly what he needs to do.
The problem for Dix is he will approach too many tackles from the side rather than taking the time to get in front and he will miss tackles or be shielded from the play as a result. Obviously there is less of a threat in terms of physical punishment by taking on a ball carrier from the side but the results are less than stellar on tape. He needs to shift laterally and get in front to make sure he makes the tackle and prevents the player from making extra yardage.
The way the Tide defense works enables Dix to come down and be a good run defender. For the most part, Alabama will show two safeties and when the opposing quarterback goes into his cadence, one safety will work their way into the box while the other shifts to the middle of the field to be the center fielder in Cover-1. They wait to declare which safety is making that move until the offense is getting ready to snap the ball to adjust based on the offensive formation, strength or particular matchup. Plus, they will also use some Cover-2, so they may as well give teams one base look to hide what they want to do.
Dix is extremely aggressive coming down hill. When he does shift, he is going into the box and becomes an extra linebacker and gives them eight in the box, making it difficult to run the football. Dix diagnoses the play and goes full bore as he tries to make the play. He has sideline to sideline range and can close ground in a hurry based on his read. When the hole opens in front of him, he will go full speed to fill it and can make a big hit.
Dix is predominately playing zone and protecting over the top. Because of the caliber of athletes and the technique they employ on the outside with their corners, they are able to use a terrific athlete like Dix to just take away the middle of the field. Commonly dropping back as the deep safety covering the entire field, he has terrific range to make plays and makes teams pay for making mistakes down the middle of the field.
His coverage forces opposing teams to throw the ball outside the hashes down the field, which allows their corners to use their length and the sideline to help them. The only time Dix really has trouble is when the opposing team has a numbers advantage down the field and he is unable to defend both players. These situations are few and far between as the front seven is able to generate pressure, which makes it difficult to wait for players to get down the field. In these situations, Dix needs to play deep and prevent the bigger play and will occasionally get caught covering the shorter route. The good news is that he does not get caught in a position where he is unable to cover either player. He takes one guy away and forces the quarterback to make the right decision and throw; that is all Dix can really do.
Dix is still refining the nuances of the game as last year was his first as a full time starter, so he should improve and get more comfortable this year. The deep center field job makes it difficult for players put in these situations to make a ton of plays but Dix was able to cause pass deflections and get interceptions. He breaks on the ball extremely well and while he can still improve at how he tracks the ball and anticipating what the offense is going to do, the sky appears to be the limit with where he can go. The experience of playing the deep center field in Alabama’s scheme could make him able to transition to the NFL more quickly than most as he will likely be only responsible for covering half of the field as opposed to all of it, so in that respect, it could actually feel easier.
Dix has demonstrated great ball skills and the tremendous ability to concentrate on the ball through deflections and tipped passes. He also shows good body control and is able to contort himself to make plays on the ball that many players simply cannot. Dix has a tremendous leaping ability but will occasionally miss time when he jumps, which should only improve with experience and practice. He has fantastic closing speed for the position and often resembles a corner in just how well he can get to the football.
Dix has also shown the ability to make spectacular plays and despite the way the defense makes it difficult for him to make a ton of plays, he was able to make some of the biggest plays of the entire year for the Crimson Tide. Dix is aggressive as a returner and is definitely someone who can threaten to score when he gets his hands on the ball. He is at a disadvantage with Alabama just because when he makes interceptions, he is usually in a situation catching the ball down the field and forced to beat the entire opposing team in what basically becomes a punt return.
Dix has experience in punt coverage and he has shown to be effective there. With his combination of strength and athleticism, he can be placed just about anywhere on special teams coverage and be an excellent addition.
Dix is a hybrid safety and he appears to have the ability to play strong, free, or a combo safety depending on the team that takes him. The only area he needs to really prove himself as a strong safety is covering tight ends and his athleticism and size make him incredibly well suited to do it; he just needs more experience in that area and against high caliber opponents. Short of a team like Tampa who has two good safeties already (Mark Barron being one of them), Dix is going to be on every team’s board. He has that kind of versatility, physical talent, and huge upside going forward.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. Virginia Tech|
|Sat, Sept. 14||at Texas A&M|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Colorado State|
|Sat, Sept. 28||vs. Ole Miss|
|Sat, Oct. 5||vs. Georgia State|
|Sat, Oct. 12||at Kentucky|
|Sat, Oct. 19||vs. Arkansas|
|Sat, Oct. 26||vs. Tennessee|
|Sat, Nov. 9||vs. LSU|
|Sat, Nov. 16||at Mississippi State|
|Sat, Nov. 23||vs. Chattanooga|
|Sat, Nov. 30||at Auburn|
The game in College Station against Texas A&M puts more stress on Dix than most anyone else on the field, because a run-pass threat like Johnny Manziel who is never afraid to improvise makes it incredibly difficult to predict what he is going to do. Typically, the option read puts the most stress on the deep safety and they are the one that has to come up and defend it, so he will be tested in his ability to come up and make that play but also respond if it is a fake to pass. The game against Ole Miss is intriguing because Alabama’s corners are not as good as they have been in recent years and Donte Moncrief is developing into a fantastic wide receiver. He can really test teams deep and Dix is likely going to be helping on him over the top quite a bit. It remains to be seen what the LSU passing game will look like, but they do have athletes on the outside to test Dix. Between players like Odell Beckum and Jarvis Landry, the Bama secondary could have their hands full if Zach Mettenberger can get them the ball.
It will come off as cheap and easy, but Dix is awfully similar to Barron and this is by design. The Alabama system develops their safeties like this in the same way Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel have used them in their defenses. Strong and free are basically in name only as both guys tend to do a little bit of everything. From protecting over the top to playing the run to man coverage in the box, these guys do it all and both Barron and Dix are terrific athletes, though Barron was slightly bigger than Dix coming into the NFL.
It is difficult to imagine that Dix with all he can do would get out of the second day right now, but he might just be tapping into what could make him great at the next level. With a year of experience under his belt and natural development, he could really be a special player for Alabama this year and he could see himself in the first round and have a similar climb as Barron did with him as good a bet as any to be the top safety picked whenever he decides to enter the draft.