Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers had one clear need above all others — safety.
The position had been an issue since the team lost Nick Collins to a neck injury in 2011. The Packers attempted to man it by putting undrafted M.D. Jennings and draft bust Jerron McMillian next to Morgan Burnett.
All that did was lower Burnett’s level of play.
Coming into the 2014 draft, there were two consensus first-round safeties, Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor. What there was no consensus on was which one was better.
Some people liked Pryor more because he was known as a big hitter. Other people liked Clinton-Dix more because he was stronger in coverage.
What we — and what the Packers — hoped at the time was one of them would be available when Green Bay chose at No. 21.
One of them was and that guy was obviously Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The New York Jets took Pryor a few picks earlier at No. 18.
I remember when then Jets coach Rex Ryan was asked why his team chose Pryor over Clinton-Dix, he said something to the effect of, I’ll take the guy who hits you hard every time.
That comment right there was probably about as good as it got for Pryor.
In his three seasons, Pryor has a total of 191 tackles, half a sack, 14 passes defended and just two interceptions. He started a possible 38 of 48 games.
Over the same period, Clinton-Dix has 272 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 16 passes defended and eight interceptions. He’s made a Pro Bowl and developed into a team leader for the Packers.
Pryor was shipped to the Cleveland Browns this week in exchange for linebacker Demario Davis. All you really need to know about that trade is the Jets originally drafted Davis, but then let him sign as a free agent with the Browns after his rookie contract expired.
So basically, the Jets took on a guy they didn’t want to begin with to get rid of a guy they didn’t want more so.
It was clear the Jets wanted to replace Pryor when they drafted LSU safety Jamal Adams and Florida safety Marcus Maye in the first and second rounds of this year’s draft.
And now is where we talk about what if.
What if both players had been available to the Packers back in 2014? We’ve heard rumors that Clinton-Dix would have been the Packers’ pick if that were the case.
What if the Jets or someone else had taken Clinton-Dix?
While he has his limitations, the safety position is obviously in better shape with Clinton-Dix roaming around back there than it was prior to his arrival.
Had the Packers been left with Pryor, we might still be longing for the days of Nick Collins.