NEW YORK – Former Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix needs no more introductions to the Eagles. He made an official visit there, has friends on the team and in the front office, and is well aware of the franchise’s futile quest to draft another safety who conjures images of franchise icon Brian Dawkins.
Clinton-Dix (see bio), considered the elite safety prospect for the NFL draft, would happily embrace the pressure and expectations that would come if the Eagles picked him in the first round Thursday night.
He even sent a text message to Eagles director of player personnel Ed Marynowitz, a former Alabama football recruiter, to lobby for his friend to make it happen.
“He sent me an article and I was on the front of it, about going to Philly and what not,” Clinton-Dix said Wednesday at an NFL Play60 event in Manhattan involving the prospects invited to Radio City Music Hall. “I told him to tell them to come get me, please. Whatever it takes.”
The Eagles, who have bodies at the position but are sorely lacking a playmaker in the secondary, would probably be thrilled to have the chance to draft Clinton-Dix. But they pick 22nd overall, and most analysts believe Clinton-Dix will be the first safety taken, anywhere in the top 15.
Clinton-Dix thinks the Eagles also believe they’re not in his draft range. At least not at 22.
“When I left there I felt like they felt like they might need to draft up to get me,” he said.
Several reports have the Eagles moving up in the first round, but most of them centered on an elite receiver or quarterback Johnny Manziel. Last Thursday, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman seemed to lower expectations for the Eagles coming away with a safety, saying the safety class “isn’t a good group overall.”
If those reports and Roseman’s comments are smoke screens, maybe they’re really planning to trade up for Clinton-Dix.
Clinton-Dix has no idea what Roseman’s plans are, but he said the Eagles’ defensive scheme is similar to Alabama’s and he’d fit in perfectly. If the Eagles pick him, Clinton-Dix hopes he can build a legacy in Philadelphia similar to the ones Dawkins did.
“Dawkins was the last hot head they had,” he said. “I don’t know if I could fill his shoes, but I’d definitely bring an impact to that team.”
Clinton-Dix is considered the most well-rounded safety in the draft class, a prospect with great instincts, the ability to cover tight ends, line up in the slot and come down into the box to assist in run defense.
In some ways, he sounds like a more dynamic version of Malcolm Jenkins, the safety the Eagles in free agency.
Dix, a 6-foot-2, 208-pounder, clocked a 4.58 in the 40 at the NFL Combine – respectable, especially for an athlete his size – and logged a 33-inch vertical.
“I can do it all, from blitzing to covering, to playing the post, quarters,” he said. “Whatever needs to be done, I’m dong it. Like I said, Brian Dawkins is a different breed, but I’m my own breed as well. You’d get a different feel with me.”
Fairly or not, one knock against Clinton-Dix could be his college pedigree. Although he won two national titles at powerhouse Alabama and played on one of the game’s most punishing defenses, several former Crimson Tide prospects have battled injuries at the NFL level and haven’t fulfilled their billing.
Clinton-Dix admitted that coach Nick Saban’s notoriously grueling practices and the punishment of a Southeastern Conference schedule added early wear and tear to former Tide players who were drafted into the NFL.
But he doesn’t see the same result for himself.
“They left (Alabama) injured. Good thing I came out with only one injury,” he said. “I’m fine. I feel 100 percent healthy. That’s the difference between me and all those other guys. I got out of there quick. I didn’t play as much my freshman year. Sophomore year, I turned it up. Junior year, I turned it up. And I’m out.”
Although he served a two-game suspension for an NCAA rules violation – he reportedly accepted a loan of less than $500 from an Alabama strength and conditioning coach – Clinton-Dix said the team that drafts him gets a playmaker with high character.
“Whatever team takes that chance on me, they’re going to get a great guy,” he said, “a great player, a great role model from start to finish who’s gonna work his butt off to earn respect.”