Ha Ha Clinton-Dix walks to the stage after being selected as the No. 21 overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to the Green Bay Packers at Radio City Music Hall. / USA TODAY Sports
The Green Bay Packers finally got their safety.
A year after neglecting the position entirely, the Packers wasted no time addressing the back end with selection of Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 21st pick in the first round of Thursday night's NFL draft.
It's the first time the Packers have taken safety in the first round since Alabama's George Teague in 1993 and for good reason. Not one of the Packers' safeties managed to generate a turnover in 2013.
The Packers feel they have their answer in Clinton-Dix, a 6-foot-1 3⁄8, 208-pound safety who had 100 tackles and seven interceptions during his three-year collegiate career with the Crimson Tide.
General manager Ted Thompson wouldn't concede the secondary's struggles last season necessitated the move, but he felt Clinton-Dix was the best option when their pick came up.
There wasn't much talk between the two sides during the draft process, but Clinton-Dix recalled a relaxing conversation with the Packers at February's scouting combine.
And he actually called his own shot recently when he posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing a Packers' T-shirt.
Now, he's headed to Green Bay just like former Alabama teammate Eddie Lacy, the Packers' second-round draft choice a year ago.
"I posted that picture on Instagram and I got 300, 400 comments and posts on Twitter," said Clinton-Dix, who will wear No. 21. "I kind of went back and looked at Green Bay and they could use some help on the defensive side of the ball period with the great offense they already have. It wasn't really ‘til then where I was like, ‘Eddie might be right. I might end up in Green Bay seriously.’
"Everything happens for reason. I put that picture of me with the Green Bay shirt up there two weeks before the draft and here I am a Packer."
The Packers hope Clinton-Dix can remedy what's been an eroding hole in their secondary since Nick Collins suffered a career-ending neck injury in Week 2 of the 2011 season.
They've tried to plug the safety spot next to Morgan Burnett unsuccessfully with Charlie Peprah, an aging Charles Woodson, undrafted M.D. Jennings and 2012 fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian before finally committing a first-round pick to filling the void.
Clinton-Dix played both the strong and free safety spots at Alabama and wowed scouts with his combination of size, speed, instinctiveness and tackling ability. He started nine of his 11 games at free safety in 2013, and won Darren Perry and defensive coordinator Dom Capers over with how he made calls in the Crimson Tide's defense.
"You get a chance to talk some football with the guys before they work out and just getting a feel for where he was mentally," Perry said. "What he was asked to do in terms of being a communicator and making the calls back there, we felt really good about that, and you expect from the guys that come out of the University of Alabama. (Nick) Saban, he's got his hand on that secondary and they play a lot of variation of coverages back there, and he's been exposed to a lot."
He wasn't the first safety off the board — Louisville's Calvin Pryor went to the New York Jets three spots earlier — but set off a run of safeties with Washington State's Deone Bucannon (Arizona) and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward (San Francisco) going 27th and 30th, respectively.
There's some thought Clinton-Dix still could stand to add more size to his 6-foot-1 frame, but he presents a tall complement to the 6-foot-1 Burnett against a slew of tall, physical NFC North receivers like Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Chicago's one-two threat of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
Clinton-Dix isn't as heavy of a hitter as Pryor, but his ball-hawking ability should help improve a secondary that saw its interceptions drop consistently over the past three years. His size and ability is also an immediate upgrade over Jennings, whose limitations couldn't be hidden next to Burnett.
"I'm very good in the post and covering, double-teaming, whatever the case may be, I'm good at doing it," Clinton-Dix said. "When I get into that playbook and get comfortable and relaxed and get to know the system, I think I'll be fine helping the Green Bay Packers win."
Thompson said he felt there was a chance Clinton-Dix would be available when the Packers picked at No. 21 and joked he felt like Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome in how he's been drafting Alabama players over the past few years.
If Clinton-Dix can make the kind of impact Lacy made in his offensive rookie of the year campaign in 2013, the Packers might have finally solved their recurring issue in the secondary. At the very least, they have more options with cornerback Micah Hyde also a candidate to spend more time in the safety room this upcoming season.
"I think he's a real all-purpose kind of safety," Thompson said. "He's shown an ability to cover down in the slot, he's good in support, physical player. Also can play well in the back end. I think like Coach Saban said at the start of the broadcast, we think he's got very, very good ball skills, and all three of those things are things that we look for in a safety."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.