When the Packers slumped to an 8-7-1 record and endured a quick exit from the playoffs, conventional wisdom says it's because Aaron Rodgers blew out his shoulder against the Bears. Not so. The offense kept functioning, it was the defense that suffered most of the season and even though the Packers made the playoffs, the tired chasing Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers for the second straight year, this time at Lambeau. General Manager Ted Thompson knew reinforcements were in order. In the off-season, he pulled in a couple of free agents, Letroy Guion from the Vikes and with an even bigger splash, brought in Julius Peppers. He let M.D. Jennings go as a restricted free agent, cut a 4th round pick Jerron McMillian in mid-season last year. Thompson realized he needs playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. As the first round unfolded Thursday night, all four of the players most everyone targeted for the Packers were still on the board after 14 picks. Then the Steelers grabbed Ryan Shazier of Ohio State at 15, C.J. Mosley was taken by the Ravens at 17, Calvin Pryor one pick later by the Jets. And when two more offensive players went at 19 and 20, Thompson sighed with relief and snapped Alabama junior safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix at number 21, the first Crimson Tide number one draft choice in franchise history.
Dix is 6-1, 208 pounds of National Championship pedigree. A Florida native, Dix played centerfield at the back end of Coach Nick Saban's secondary as a sophomore and last year as a junior, took on more of a leadership role, handling communication and checks, venturing into the box and maintaining an All SEC level of play. That's one of the things Thompson and safety coach Darren Perry liked about him. A versatile defender who plays faster than his combine 40 time which may have scared some teams away. Dix doesn't lack for confidence. In his conference call late Thursday night he declared, "I'm a great player." He believes once he grasps the Dom Capers system, he'll be a major contributor to a defense that badly needs another great player. The safeties last year accounted for count 'em, zero interceptions, and too many missed tackles to count.
Thompson said this was one of those rare occasions where best player available matched need but Dix won't simply be handed the starting job. "All of the players we take this weekend have to earn their stripes.", Thompson said. Thompson also joked he's feeling a lot like Ozzie Newsome, the Raven GM who loves tapping the University of Alabama for talent, taking Mosley in the first round. Dix joins last year's second rounder, Eddie Lacy and Thompson said that worked out pretty well.
Three more picks are coming Friday night, the Packers as of now have five choices to make on Saturday.
Other first round highlights.... Johnny Football had to wait. Johnny Manziel was this year's Aaron Rodgers, waiting until the 22nd pick to get called by the Cleveland Browns. Blake Bortles of Central Florida was the first QB off the board at number 3 to Jacksonville.
In the Black and Blue division, the Vikings traded down 1 spot with Cleveland from 8 to 9 to select UCLA Linebacker Anthony Barr. Minnesota also made a late round deal with Seattle who moved out of the 32nd and final spot to acquire more picks. That's when the Vikes tabbed Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the heir apparent to the QB mess in the Twin Cities. Detroit took North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron at number 10, another weapon for Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson to torment the division. The Bears went defense with Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.