Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick is generally considered one of the best and safest draft prospects of 2018. His athleticism, versatility, intelligence, and passion place him among the most talented defensive backs to come out of the draft in recent years. Yet he's one of the toughest players to evaluate on film this year, because it's not about what can he do (everything), it's about what can he do BEST.
Fitzpatrick played both safety and the "star" position in college, which is akin to the nickel back. Like the name implies, the star is often going to be one of the most talented (and important) players on the defense. They need to have not only the quickness to cover slot receivers, but the physicality to play run support and blitz. Fitzpatrick and FSU's Derwin James excelled in this role. Here's a video link if you want to learn more about the position from Nick Saban (start at about the 5:30 mark).
Weight: 205 lbs.
Arm Length: 31 1/4"
Hand: 9 3/8"
40 yard dash: 4.46 seconds
Bench Press: 14
Broad jump: 121.0"
Vertical Jump: 33"
In the video, Saban says something interesting: "You can be a really good Star and not have the long speed to be a good corner...". Though Fitzpatrick is by all rights an excellent defensive back, his ability to play outside corner is a big question mark. There's practically no film of him there, so we're left to rely solely on his athletic testing numbers and see if he has the requisite athleticism for an outside corner. Luckily there are people out there that compile these numbers and help us compare them to others.
One of these people is Kent Lee Platte, who created a measure called Relative Athletic Score (RAS) which takes prospects athletic scores, plugs them into a formula, and gives them a grade from 1-10 in comparison to NFL athletes. As you can see below, Fitzpatrick tested well above average at both corner and safety.
Though Fitzpatrick doesn't look like quite an "elite" athlete to me on film, he's still very clearly a good one. Though Alabama didn't always put him in position to showcase that athleticism, it's there. Below, he's able to recover and close on the route after initially being beaten.
ahh.. doesn't come down with this int.. lol nice PBU..crazy thing about minkah is he can still improve. I think there are some technique things he can clean up. pic.twitter.com/2M5FKDKG4L— CrockTIME (@eric_crocker) April 2, 2018
Once again, he gets beaten by a good route and is even caught turning the wrong way, but somehow Minkah still arrives before the ball.
playing outside cornerback.. im not a fan of speed turns but good feet.. fluid hips.. great ball skills.. pic.twitter.com/wM84Esj39Q— CrockTIME (@eric_crocker) April 2, 2018
This one just speaks for itself. It's not often you see DBs take on a center, run through the A gap, and chase down a dumpoff from the backfield.
Unlike most DBs, you'll rarely ever see him shying away from taking on a block, much less making a tackle. Given where he plays and the way he plays, it's easy to confuse Fitzpatrick for a linebacker. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say he's a linebacker in the body of a corner. Because of his physicality, Alabama loved using him to erase opposing TEs when they were in 6 DB sets, and whatever NFL team gets him will probably end up doing the same thing.
As a blitzer, Minkah is incredibly adept at using speed and timing to put blockers in disadvantageous positions. No one will be asking him to play edge full time of course, but the ability to take on, shed, or avoid blocks almost entirely is there. The terms movable chess piece and swiss army knife get thrown around when talking about versatile defenders a lot, but I'm here to tell you Minkah Fitzpatrick is the ultimate embodiment of this concept. Don't worry so much about a true position, just ask him to do something and he'll go out there and do it.
When it comes to major flaws, I wish I had something for you, but I don't. If we're nitpicking, you'll see in a couple of the clips above that he can get beat in man coverage sometimes (who doesn't), so his technique could use a little more refinement. Also, the way he hunts the ball like a madman sometimes leads him to run himself out of the play. I wouldn't call these serious concerns going forward though: By all accounts, Minkah is the ultimate football junkie and absorbs information like a sponge. If you have a halfway competent DB coach, he'll be fine.
Saban on M. Fitzpatrick: "He's phenomenal. He does it every day. I've heard guys say they save it for the game and they aren't worth a shit"— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) August 16, 2017
In case you're not familiar with the way Nick Saban handles the media, he's a lot like Vic Fangio for those of you that remember him. For him to say something like this speaks volumes about the type of guy Fitzpatrick is. People have even taken to calling him Nick Saban's favorite son because of how much praise he receives from one of football's greatest minds.
All this brings us to the ultimate question for 49ers fans: If Fitzpatrick is on the board at 9, does he offer enough value to draft over a lesser player but at a weaker position?