Miami Dolphins

Is Minkah Fitzpatrick the Dolphins’ defense’s missing piece?

Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick runs a drill during the NFL Scouting Combine last month.
Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick runs a drill during the NFL Scouting Combine last month. AP

This is the first of a 10-part series breaking down players in play for the Dolphins with the 11th overall pick.

Let’s hop in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and set the date for Dec. 28, 2017.

That’s where we will find Matt Burke, the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator, explaining why his team cannot seem to cover tight ends.

Four days earlier, Kansas City’s Travis Kelce was the latest in the long line to expose Miami’s perennial weakness, beating safety Reshad Jones for a touchdown. The Dolphins had previously tried linebacker Kiko Alonso in coverage, with similar, if not worse, results.

“If you’re trying to put smaller bodies in terms of nickels and corners out there, tight ends that are hybrid weapons have been sort of a trend in the NFL in general, I think,” Burke said. “I think that’s sort of a task for us is finding similar hybrid defenders that can do those type of things, whether it’s safeties or linebackers, that we feel can cover those guys. I think that’s just sort of an ongoing movement.”

Here’s a suggestion: Use your first-round pick, take Alabama’s do-everything defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and fix the problem for good.

Fitzpatrick is one of several players in the mix for the Dolphins at 11, and he has showed time and again that he could do exactly what Burke said the Dolphins need. He started 10 games at nickel corner for Nick Saban in 2015, making freshman all-American and all-SEC teams. A year later, he shifted inside to safety and was even better.

Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said he expects to be one of the defense's go-to leaders.

His six interceptions led the team. He added another pick and 60 tackles as a junior, doing enough to skip his final year and enter the draft. Smart move. He might be the first defensive back taken later this month.

The only question the team that takes him will face: where to play him. The Dolphins would likely use Fitzpatrick everywhere but the boundary — even though he insists he can play there, too.

“Some teams talked to me about playing corner,” Fitzpatrick said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “So teams say inside corner or start at corner and go inside, go back and forth and learn two and some say safety. It just depends on the team.”

Another plus: He absolutely loves the game, and likely will come with Alabama coach Nick Saban’s full endorsement, which carries weight with Adam Gase. The former and current Dolphins head coaches worked together at Michigan State and LSU.

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase talks about the Fins' bizarre season and Jarvis Landry's ejection after their final game of the season, a loss to the Buffalo Bills.

“Just the relationships that you form with your teammates and then all the people that you meet,” Fitzpatrick said, when asked what he loves most about the game. “I've been all over the country just because of football. I've even been out of the country because of football. It's just been really cool getting all the different experiences. And winning. Winning championships, sharing those experiences with my coaches and my teammates and my family, it's all been great.”

Measurables

Height: 6 feet (55th percentile among defensive backs).

Weight: 204 pounds (65th percentile).

Wingspan: 75 1/8 inches (47th percentile).

Arm length: 31 1/4 inches (38th percentile).

Hands: 9 3/8 inches (62nd percentile).

40 time: 4.46 seconds (74th percentile).

Bench press: 14 reps (34th percentile).

Vertical jump: 33 inches (17th percentile).

Broad jump: 121 inches (52nd percentile).

Comparisons (per MockDraftable.com): Florida safety Reggie Nelson (2007), Miami cornerback Antrel Rolle (2005), USF safety Nate Allen (2010).

Dolphins coach Adam Gase meets with reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine.

He said it

“I'd say I'm strongest covering man-to-man. Whether it be inside corner or outside corner or at safety coming down in coverages man to man. It's what I did pretty much my whole career at Alabama. I usually covered the top receiver on the offensive side of the ball unless he stayed outside all the time. But when it was a guy who moved around, I followed him around. So, I just think covering man to man.” — Minkah Fitzpatrick

They said it

“Fitzpatrick turns up the intensity level as high as it will go and rips off the knob until the game is over. Fitzpatrick has experience as a slot cornerback, but will likely be targeted as a ‘do-everything’ safety who can be deployed as a sub-package linebacker, a blitzer or in the slot against big receivers and move tight ends. Fitzpatrick has consistently shined since his freshman season on Alabama defenses that have been loaded with NFL talent. His versatility, football character and desire to succeed give him Pro Bowl potential and should make him an early starter.” — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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