“With the eleventh pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins select… Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive back, Alabama.”
The long wait is over. After rumours linking Miami to Baker Mayfield, Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds and Vita Vea – who’s name picked up steam in recent days – the Miami Dolphins selected versatile DB Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick is the latest addition to Miami’s defensive backfield that has undergone significant re-tooling since the team cut Pro Bowl CB Brent Grimes. Since March 2016, Miami has drafted Xavien Howard (2016, 2nd round), Cordrea Tankersley (2017, 3rd round), re-signed Reshad Jones to a long-term deal and brought in FS Nate Allen and SS TJ McDonald.
Who is Minkah Fitzpatrick?
Originally from New Jersey, Fitzpatrick was a 5-star recruit and the number 4 overall cornerback in the country according to ESPN. He committed to Alabama and started ten games as a true freshman for a National Championship winning defense. Fitzpatrick moved to safety in 2016. During his time in Tuscaloosa he earned the nickname “Saban’s Son,” as anything coach Saban asked, Fitzpatrick performed to a high standard.
Fitzpatrick predominantly played in the slot during his three years with Alabama, although he spent a brief period starting at safety when starter Eddie Jackson went down to injury. His speed, intelligence and aggression were utilised in and around the line of scrimmage.
In 42 games he logged 9 interceptions, 24 passes defended with 110 solo tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Fitzpatrick owns the Crimson Tide school record with four pick sixes. During his sophomore season after moving from “star” to safety, he led the SEC with 6 INTs.
In three seasons he was twice named a consensus All-American (2016, 2017), won two national championships and was only the third player in college football history to win the Jim Thorpe award (top DB) and the Chuck Bednarik award (top defensive player). The only other two to win them? 9-time Pro Bowler Charles Woodson and 7-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson.
Fitzpatrick will soon sign a multi-million dollar deal, transforming both his and his family’s fortunes. As outlined by the Miami Herald the Fitzpatrick family battled homelessness after their home in New Jersey was destroyed in 2011 by Hurricane Irene. The Dolphins drafted an intelligent and focused player at number 11, who’s impeccable character was partly the reason Miami felt so comfortable drafting him there.
How Will Miami Use Him?
Fitzpatrick’s key strength is his versatility. Fitzpatrick is excellent lining up in the slot, in a strong safety role around the line of scrimmage and also as a free safety. He himself described himself as a “swiss army knife” and with two starting linebackers in Miami, it will be interesting to see how the Dolphins will utilise him.
The Dolphins will likely utilize Fitzpatrick as a center fielder, the lone free safety in Miami’s Cover 1 “robber” scheme or in a Cover 3 with press coverage on the outside. Fitzpatrick’s potential is similar to that of Eagles star safety Malcolm Jenkins. Both players have a similar build, scored similar in athletic testing, with Fitzpatrick having a slight edge in speed, and were both projected as slot corners/ free safeties coming out of college.
As a Slot Corner
Jenkins predominantly played as a corner early in his career for the Colts. Fitzpatrick spent most of his time in the slot in college; with NFL defenses spending the majority of their time in nickel and dime packages – a slot corner is now a starting position in today’s NFL.
Fitzpatrick is extremely fluid in coverage. In the above play, Alabama lines Fitzpatrick up directly opposite Texas A&M‘s star receiver Christian Kirk. In a 3rd & 6, with the ball on Alabama’s 31 yard line and the Tide needing a crucial stop – everyone in the stadium knew the ball was going to Kirk but Saban trusted Fitzpatrick as his best cover corner and lined him up in press coverage opposite him. The Dolphins could use Fitzpatrick as a slot corner back in key situations or use his athleticism and size (6’0″, 204lbs) to bully smaller receivers off the line who could give Miami problems (i.e. Julian Edelman).
As a Free Safety
Miami plays a cover 1 “robber”/ cover 3 scheme primarily to utilize the strengths of star safety Reshad Jones. Jones is an excellent box safety who is effective against the run and in coverage. The problem with playing a cover 1 or cover 3 scheme is the importance placed on the center field free safety. The free safety must be rangy and instinctual – able to see where the ball is going and possess the athleticism to get across and break up the pass.
The Dolphins have routinely struggled to find above-average free safeties, having used Nate Allen, Michael Thomas, Bacarri Rambo, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Louis Delmas over the last few seasons. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a highly intelligent football player who is both rangy and instinctual – his production and turnover numbers at Alabama are a testament to this.
In the below clip Miami gave up a long touchdown on third down as slot corner Bobby McCain was beaten off the line and safety Nate Allen was a step slow in diagnosing, and was therefore unable to close the gap and break on the ball. If the clip below was showing Earl Thomas in Seattle, Eric Berry in Kansas City or Malik Hooker in Indianapolis – it would likely be a pick.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is a 4.4 runner with great short area quickness and ability to cover ground in a hurry. The below interception is evidence of this, as he’s able to stay with his man and quickly cover ground to break on the ball and make an interception.
Fitzpatrick has all the necessary physical and mental capabilities to excel as a free safety. While Nick Saban may have utilized him around the line of scrimmage, this does not mean he will not excel as a free safety in the NFL. The Malcolm Jenkins comparison is again poignant. Fitzpatrick’s ability to sit in zone and read where the quarterback plans to go with the football was evident in ‘Bamas 2016 match up with Arkansas. Fitzpatrick totaled three interceptions and took one from his own end zone to the house for a pick six. He has an excellent understanding of zone coverage and is great at reading patterns and feeling/anticipating where the quarterback is going to go with the football.
Fitzgerald could be an aggressive hard hitting free safety who makes tight ends and slot defenders think twice before driving up the seams to make a contested catch. In the clip below Fitzgerald identifies his target and quickly closes the ground before putting a hit on a Florida WR in the run game and an Auburn WR in the passing game.
If the Dolphins use Fitzpatrick as a free safety, fellow safety TJ McDonald could play as a “tweener” LB around the line of scrimmage. McDonald, Raekwon McMillan, Kiko Alonso and Reshad Jones in and around the box gives Miami plenty of speed on defense.
As a Chess Piece
Fitzpatrick’s experience playing in the slot and around the line, as well as an occasional yet highly effective blitzer, adds yet another string to his bow. Defensive coordinator Matt Burke can get creative with an excellent chess piece for his young, re-tooled defense. Fitzpatrick is extremely effective on delayed blitzes as he closes ground quickly and either gets to the quarterback or forces them into hurried throws. While the Dolphins might primarily utilize him as a free safety, there is nothing stopping DC Matt Burke getting creative and bringing Fitzpatrick down into the box on a disguised blitz.
The Dolphins drafted a highly versatile play maker who can play virtually any position in the defensive backfield to a high standard. Fitzpatrick earned Nick Saban’s approval in college and it should be fun to see how he is deployed and utilized in Miami.