Feedback on safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins’ first-round pick on Thursday (and he will play safety, according to the Dolphins):
▪ NFL Network's Mike Mayock: “Really good fit for Miami because you pair him with Reshad Jones. You can move T.J. McDonald to dime linebacker. He’s 6 feet, 204 pounds. He can literally play any position back there. Nine interceptions career, four taken back for touchdowns. He’s got free safety range. He can match slots and tight ends. In other words, man to man coverage, drop down and cover a slot. Be physical enough to cover that tight end.
“When you talk to [Alabama coach] Nick Saban about this kid, Nick Saban lights up. Nick Saban started him as a rare starting true freshman defensive back. They worked him in the box this year. You have to have a plan for him. He’s got free safety range. Where are you going to play him so he gets around the football more often? Alabama last year had him in the box a lot. When Saban talks about him, he almost gets choked up. He loves this kid, and I believe he’s an all-around defensive back.”
▪ ESPN's Mel Kiper: “High football IQ, he has that. Nick Saban raves about this kid. He’s a defensive coordinator on the field. He’s played corner, slot. He’s played safety. He’s done it all. School’s all time leader at Alabama in career interceptions returned for touchdowns. He had four of those. When he has a chance to get a turnover, he has the hands to catch the ball and get the turnover. He sets everybody up on defense. He is a team leader. He’s a guy everybody respects.”
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▪ ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit: “I remember watching him his first scrimmage as a true freshman in their home stadium, a closed practice. You’re looking at all these superstars juniors and seniors. You are seeing 29 making plays. When he came off the field, he was standing next to Mel Tucker and the defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, asking questions. Kid was 18. He had been on campus for two weeks. He has the intangibles and leadership qualities that are very unique.”
▪ Saban told Alabama reporters that Fitzpatrick is the best player he has ever coached.
▪ NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein: “Fitzpatrick turns up the intensity level as high as it will go and 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 should make him an early starter.”
▪ Zierlein lists his strengths as these:
· Loves ball, lives ball
· Extremely competitive play demeanor with a history of showing up big in the biggest games
· Versatile chess piece with experience all over the field
· Can step right in and cover the slot, play high safety or handle nickel linebacker responsibilities
· Good feet with ability to transition backward and forward smoothly around the field
· Gets to top chase speed quickly
· Can become rangy safety
· Able to stick a foot in ground and drive to the ball
· Plays with "ball-man" vision of an off-ball defender in basketball
· Has awareness from zone to make loads of plays
· Has nine career interceptions and four pick-sixes
· Has downhill mindset as a hitter
· Plays off of blocks and into tackling position
· Dangerous blitzer off the edge
· Attacks line of scrimmage from high safety look in run support and welcomes physical challenges
▪ Zierlein lists these as his weaknesses:
· Plays with some hip tightness that limits lateral agility in coverage
· May not have pure cover talent to play full-time cornerback
· Allows some separation out of breaks
· Feet are more quick than explosive when chasing receivers from the top of the route
· Still needs to improve his awareness when asked to play deep safety
· Has to learn to dial back urgency and play with more patience on the next level
· Comes in hot as tackler and will run himself out of position to finish
▪ Though linebacker was the bigger need, Fitzpatrick potentially fills the team’s biggest non-position need: someone who can cover tight ends effectively. The Dolphins allowed 94 receptions on 136 targets against tight ends last season (most catches in the league) and 1034 yards (second-most, ahead of only Oakland, which allowed 1038) as well as 10 touchdowns.
And McDonald can move to linebacker in nickel situations. GM Chris Grier said coaches will decide if McDonald moves to linebacker.
▪ Pro Football Focus said he played just 13 snaps at boundary cornerback last season but asserts that’s “the position that will hold the most value for him at the NFL level.”
Last season, he played 64 percent of his snaps inside as a slot corner and seven percent as a safety.
▪ PFF said he wasn’t beaten for a reception of longer than 31 yards.
▪ Per PFF, Fitzpatrick allowed an NFL passer rating of 83.5 on 61 targets last season, after allowing an absurdly good 37.8 in 2016.
▪ He allowed 43 receptions on 61 targets last season for 351 yards, a touchdown and an interception. That was worse than 2016, when he allowed 30 of 61 to be completed for 362 yards, two touchdown and six interceptions.
▪ PFF’s overall assessment: “Minkah Fitzpatrick is a playmaker anywhere he lines up on defense but while that versatility was a plus in college, it presents a challenge to NFL teams looking to take him high in the draft, because they need to identify exactly where he plays at the next level. The position that holds the highest value – perimeter corner – is the one he has the least experience playing [just 13 snaps in 2017]. He has excellent instincts, strength and onfield communication and likely will succeed somewhere in the NFL, but what position?”
▪ NFL.com's Bucky Brooks Brooks previously wrote Fitzpatrick is “a Swiss Army knife in the back end with the capacity to play safety, corner or nickel in any defensive scheme.”
▪ NFL Net’s Daniel Jeremiah has Fitzpatrick ranked sixth overall in this draft and said Fitzpatrick is at his best when he is “allowed to float and keep his eyes on the quarterback. He has outstanding instincts, anticipation and ball skills. In man coverage, he has the size and speed to match up with both the big/physical pass-catchers as well as the smaller/quicker” receivers.