Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports
If first impressions are meaningful, the same might be said for first visits immediately before the NFL Draft. Such events can show true team intention often lost amongst the endless stream of innuendo that occupies spring.
Monday, Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix was the Detroit Lions’ first major visitor to Allen Park in the draft prospect interview process. Depending on one’s personal view of things, that could mean nothing or everything as it relates to the future of Detroit’s offseason planning in the secondary.
It’s no secret the Lions need a safety after the departure of Louis Delmas. Detroit wanted to add a bigger name on the free agent market, but struck out there when T.J. Ward signed with the Denver Broncos. James Ihedigbo figures to be in the mix, but otherwise, there’s been no other news with regards to any free agent visits, or additional player interest.
Quietly, Clinton-Dix came to town and might have made a statement about the Lions’ plans at the same time. Dave Birkett of The Detroit Free Press had the whole story, including some personal thoughts of Clinton-Dix, who seemed open to the idea of playing in the Motor City despite the fact safeties rarely receive top ten consideration historically.
"“I watched Mark Barron do it a few years ago, when he went 7, so it’s been done.” Clinton-Dix told the Free Press after he paid a predraft visit to the Lions (Monday). “If they want to take me at 10, I’m looking forward to it and would love to be in Detroit.”"
Though many have claimed it would be a reach to take Clinton-Dix with a top pick this May unlike Barron, Detroit may wish to groom him as their safety of the future. With Delmas, the Lions had a heavy-hitter that routinely overcommitted in run and pass defense. Consequently, they may need to start over with more of a complete safety like Clinton-Dix that’s a ball hawk in addition to a run supporter.
Regardless, the fact that Detroit lined up Clinton-Dix immediately may be telling. Over the past few weeks, other positions have been discussed at length with regard to pick 10, such as wide receiver, cornerback, linebacker and even offensive linemen. One position that hasn’t been talked about extensively is safety, despite the obvious need and obvious fit.
Detroit could still potentially look at signing Ihedigbo as a short-term veteran stop-gap, then draft Clinton-Dix and use Ihedigbo as his mentor. It would allow the Lions to have a solid player now, while also developing a possible impact maker for years to come. Perhaps instead of making a bigger play at corner, the Lions wish to solidify the middle of the defensive backfield first.
Agree or disagree, it’s still a very interesting propostion to ponder, especially given the identity and position occupied by Detroit’s first pre-draft visitor and the heavy need at that position. Maybe things are being over-thought. It’s possible the Lions were lukewarm on Ward and other free agent safeties for a reason.
Should first impressions still count for anything, don’t be shocked if Clinton-Dix ends up calling Detroit home come May. Amongst all the other smoke that’s billowing, it could be the move the Lions are quietly angling for.