Minkah Fitzpatrick 2017 Preview By Charlie Campbell
Career Recap: Under Nick Saban, Alabama has been a factory for NFL talent that includes a steady string of early round defensive backs. cornerback Marlon Humphrey kept the tradition as a first-round pick of the Ravens in the 2017 NFL Draft, and that followed other picks like Landon Collins, Dee Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Cyrus Jones. Not all of them have panned out, but there is no doubt that the Crimson Tide have generated early round talents for NFL secondaries. Fitzpatrick should keep the tradition alive in the 2018 NFL Draft and is in the running to be the top Alabama prospect selected.
Saban isn't against playing freshmen or underclassmen, but they have to be special players to beat out other highly recruited players who are older, more experienced, and more developed physically. Fitzpatrick was so good that he forced his way onto the field as a freshman while totaling 45 tackles with two sacks, 11 passes broken up and two interceptions - both returned for a touchdowns.
In 2016, Fitzpatrick recorded 66 tackles with seven passes broken up and six interceptions. He was dominant at times for Alabama, splitting time between corner and safety. Injuries at cornerback forced him to play there, but safety is his more natural and comfortable position. Still, Fitzpatrick gave NFL evaluators proof of versatility as he did a nice job at corner when forced to play there.
2017 Season Outlook: Fitzpatrick has an interesting schedule with some variety in challenging quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Alabama opens the season with Florida State, and the Seminoles have a talented young quarterback in Deondre Francois. He has a cannon for an arm and could look to test Alabama downfield. NFL scouts say that Florida State tight end Mavin Saunders is a special talent, so Fitzpatrick could show his skills to defend against receiving tight ends by lining up over Saunders.
In early October, Fitzpatrick will see the test of Texas A&M star wide receiver Christian Kirk. He is an explosive play-maker who could be the best wideout who Fitzpatrick sees all year. A week later, Fitzpatrick's run defense will get put to the test by Arkansas.
In early November, Fitzpatrick will see perhaps the best running back on his regular-season schedule with LSU's Derrius Guice. The rival Tigers also have a good wideout in D.J. Chark, who Fitzpatrick could help to defend.
In the final month of the season, Fitzpatrick will see two more NFL quarterback prospects with Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald and Auburn's Jarrett Stidham. Both present problems as runners and passers, so Fitzpatrick will have his eye discipline put to the test by those spread offenses.
Skill-Set Summary: The passing-driven NFL forces defenses to find safeties who can contribute in a variety of ways as they can be called on to cover receivers one on one, help deep over the top, defend receiving tight ends one on one, challenge big wideouts, and serve as essential run defenders. Fitzpatrick is a great fit for being a flexible defender who helps his defense solve a variety of problems.
Fitzpatrick is a dangerous defender in the middle of he field. He is a smart and has good instincts, which puts him in position to make plays. With his skill set and versatility, Fitzpatrick looks like a real weapon for a pro defense. He can play the roaming safety role in the middle of the field as his instincts put him in position to make plays on the ball. Another great attribute that he possesses is that he can be a safety who helps in man coverage on receivers and tight ends. Having experience at cornerback has given Fitzpatrick good experience and comfort to line up in man coverage.
I'm not sure how Fitzpatrick will time before the 2018 NFL Draft, but he plays fast and is a defender who covers a lot of ground. He has the coverage skills to line up against big receivers or slot receivers. Fitzpatrick does a nice job of running the route to prevent separation, too. He tracks the ball extremely well and shows nice ball skills. For a defensive back, Fitzpatrick has excellent hands. He is a real threat to create interceptions and make a game-changing play for his defense.
Fitzpatrick also is a willing run defender as he will come downhill into the box to make tackles. He doesn't hesitate to get physical in the secondary and dish out some hard hits. For the NFL, it might help him to gain 5-10 pounds of muscle to help tackle pro backs and receivers. I would like to see more plays of how Fitzpatrick holds up as the deep free safety and last line of defense over the top in 2017.
Here is how one scout who has already worked the 2018 class summarized Fitzpatrick, "He's a prototype free safety [for] this day and age, [who] can drop over slot and play man, pro off hash, or roam as center fielder. Good size, speed, athletic ability, high football IQ, play-maker."
For the NFL, I think the junior has Pro Bowl potential as a versatile safety who can do a lot things and erase mismatches.
2018 NFL Draft Expectations: If Fitzpatrick plays at the same level in 2017 as he did last year, he should be a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.