There may not be a bigger defensive name in the upcoming NFL draft than Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick doesn’t exactly have a true position listing right now, as he has the versatility to play literally anywhere in the secondary.
No matter how you spin it, Fitzpatrick is the best defensive back in this draft. It’s not up for debate. Much like Jamal Adams last year, there isn’t much in his game for critics to pick apart.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t have the statistical makeup that some of the other players in the draft is, but there is a reason for that. College teams are dead scared of throwing him the ball. Fitzpatrick only allowed 24 completions, doubling that with seven pass breakups and an interception (per PFF).
“He’s not quite on the same level of Jamal Adams when it comes to changing the entire culture of a locker room, but he is just as talented and probably more versatile.” – AFC team executive (via NFL.com)
Fitzpatrick’s versatility may be his best asset, however. He started as a freshman on a Nick Saban-coached defense, something no one did this past season. Fitzpatrick was put on radars during that freshman year, returning two interceptions for touchdowns against 9th ranked Texas A&M. Fitzpatrick finished the year on the Freshman All-American team and had two pass breakups in the national championship game, an Alabama victory over the Clemson Tigers.
Fitzpatrick seemed destined for another season as an elite cornerback his sophomore year but was forced to switch positions following an injury. Coincidentally, it was that injury which allowed the Bears to draft Eddie Jackson so late in the draft last year, as teams were concerned about his injury status.
Fitzpatrick thrived in that safety role, racking up six interceptions in his sophomore year, landing him a spot as a unanimous All-American.
Fitzpatrick stayed listed at that safety role in 2017, though he roamed throughout the secondary. His lockdown defending this season, which saw him take away half the field in the passing game, saw him win the Bednarik award for the best defender in the NCAA.
There isn’t anything about Fitzpatrick’s coverage that hasn’t been regurgitated time and time again, but there is a good reason for that. Minkah Fitzpatrick is a special talent.
Minkah Fitzpatrick reads QB's eyes, anticipates route & accelerates before ball is thrown, turning difficult cover assignment into easy INT. pic.twitter.com/JIfX2glUuC
— Rob Rang (@RobRang) October 8, 2017
Watch in this clip as Fitzpatrick jumps perfectly jumps the route, coming up with a crucial red-zone interception. After falling a step behind on the route, Fitzpatrick doesn’t leave his man to the safety, but instead that the safety’s positioning is forcing the throw to come in short like it did. This isn’t an easy play by any means, but Fitzpatrick makes it look like one.
One of the biggest knocks on Minkah is his motor, but he does not show it on this play. There are times he gives up on a play too early or some in which he doesn’t fight full steam through a block.
When you watch Fitzpatrick in the national championship game last month, this is clear. There are plays that Fitzpatrick gives up on too quickly. This is a concern, but not a grave one. Minkah is going to inevitably be targeted more than he was in college, which should theoretically lead to a higher sense of urgency in his game.
Can anyone edge blitz better than Minkah Fitzpatrick? pic.twitter.com/9igwIR3icd
— Coach Dan Casey (@CoachDanCasey) February 1, 2018
Perhaps the most underrated part of Minkah’s game, however, is his edge blitzing. While the Auburn offensive line admittedly does a horrific job of blocking him, Minkah dashes through and make an impressive tackle on Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson.
Alabama safety 29 Minkah Fitzpatrick winning a 1 on 1 pass rush against an SEC offensive tackle at 200lbs. Guy is crazy good at football. pic.twitter.com/nQTvORU8vM
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) October 24, 2017
Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is listed at 6’1″ and 202 pounds, has the same pass rushing moves as some defensive linemen. That offensive lineman, Trey Smith, is listed at 6’6″ and 320 pounds, and Minkah got past him easily.
Fitzpatrick is going to be a special talent for whoever drafts him, and that team should be the Chicago Bears.
Vic Fangio’s reliance on versatility is one of the staples of his defense. On multiple occasions, Fangio has been forced to get the best of players out of their natural positions, including just recently Roy Robertson-Harris and Christian Jones. As a player who is comfortable in multiple positions, Fitzpatrick is a guy that Fangio may dream about at night.
Secondly, Fitzpatrick does fill a huge need. While he’d likely move back to the cornerback position, having someone of his talent opposite Kyle Fuller would once again make teams scared to throw the ball against the Bears. Fitzpatrick doesn’t have the same stonehands problem that Prince Amukamara did last season, which will likely lead to more takeaways. While Amukamara played really well last season, that was a glaring hole in his game that Fitzpatrick can fill.
Star DB Minkah Fitzpatrick off the right corner for the block to secure the Alabama lead into halftime. pic.twitter.com/SMhmdGxDY5
— Rob Rang (@RobRang) September 3, 2017
Fitzpatrick may also be the second special teams ace that takes the Bears special teams to the next level. Not only does Fitzpatrick have a blocked punt and field goal on his resume, but he is a special teams ace. Fitzpatrick has 22 career tackles in kick or punt coverage. After Sherick McManis went down with an injury last year, there was a noticeable hole in the special teams no one was able to fill.
Not only will Minkah be able to fill that hole, but with him playing alongside McManis, the Bears have the potential to be an elite special teams group.
The last question about Minkah Fitzpatrick concerns where he is going to be drafted. With the Redskins conceding Kirk Cousins to free agency, three teams who have reported high interest are the Browns, Jets, and Broncos. All of those teams have been penciled in for taking a quarterback in the draft before the Bears make their 8th overall selection. While it’s highly possible a team like the Bills or Cardinals trade up to get a quarterback in one of those picks, it’s no longer a guarantee that four quarterbacks are taken in the top seven.
This isn’t ideal for the Bears, who now have to worry about another team taking guys they are eyeing. There isn’t a true consensus on where Fitzpatrick is going to be taken, but I highly doubt he falls past eight. There are only two players in this draft with the ability to drastically improve two phases of the game, and the Bears aren’t in the market for a running back. Minkah Fitzpatrick is in the fast-lane towards being an all-pro, and he is going to make any team better.