“The Dallas Cowboys could use some help at the safety position” is something that fans have been hearing for years, but as sick of it as they might be, it’s been true for all of those years. In today’s NFL, the safety position is more important than it’s ever been, and if Dallas chooses to address it in the first round, the two elite prospects in this year’s class are Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor.
There is no consensus on which player is the better prospect (but everyone has them first and second, in some order) and neither player will last past the first round, possibly both even coming off the board before Dallas makes its first pick.
But all things being equal, which player would be the better pick for the Cowboys?
Clinton-Dix was the safety that I had been hoping fell to Dallas for months, as I had seen him play much more than Pryor, but after researching and studying both players more, I like Pryor slightly better, and I think he would be a better fit in Dallas. However, I still wouldn’t be TOO upset to hear NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell announce that the Cowboys selected Clinton-Dix.
For some reason, there is a perception that Pryor is a hard-hitter who is a liability in coverage. The first part of that is true, but the second part couldn’t be more false. Perhaps fans hear that Pryor is a big, physical hitter and just assume that means that he can’t also cover. Whatever the reasoning is, Pryor’s range, instincts and overall coverage abilities aren’t questioned by anyone who has actually studied him. Pryor’s stats don’t look great (five interceptions and 11 passes defended over the past two seasons), but that’s because quarterbacks generally tried to avoid throwing his way.
That being said, Clinton-Dix is probably a little better in coverage, and is more of a “true free safety.” If you read anything trying to compare him to Mark Barron of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, stop reading it immediately because the most that those two have in common is that they played at the same college. Barron, a fine player himself, is a strong safety and didn’t possess the same coverage ability coming out of school that Clinton-Dix shows now. However, Clinton-Dix’s game can be a little bit sloppy at times. He’s been known to get caught out of position due to play-action, and his tackling isn’t always great. Still, those problems are fixable and I think Clinton-Dix will be the first safety off of the board.
But to me, Pryor’s overall game is just a little bit more appealing. Again, his coverage skills are more than fine and he doesn’t project to be a liability in coverage at the NFL level. His versatility is what sets him apart, to me. Pryor is more of a hybrid safety, and while he can certainly handle the free safety role, he has a bit of strong safety in him too, and will be a better player near the line of scrimmage and in run support. He has also shown the ability to be a dangerous blitzer, which is an underrated part of his game.
Whether or not Dallas should pull the trigger on a safety in the first round is another discussion for another day. But selecting either Pryor or Clinton-Dix would allow Barry Church to move to his more natural strong safety position, and also give the Cowboys the playmaker in the secondary that they’ve lacked for so long, especially if they nab Pryor.