Another year, another group of Alabama players expected to be selected early in the NFL draft.
The first Alabama player to hear his named called this year will be defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. Nick Saban has had six defensive backs drafted in the first round since he has been at Alabama, and Fitzpatrick may be the best player from any of Saban’s Tide secondaries.
Fitzpatrick’s No. 1 strength is his wide skill set. Fitzpatrick (6 feet 1, 202 pounds) has shown the ability to play man, excel in zone coverage, generate pressure, tackle consistently and seal the edge.
Fitzpatrick also lined up all over the field for Saban. He was used as a cornerback, safety, nickel, linebacker and as an edge player. Where will he best be used in the NFL? Scouts and draft analysts aren’t necessarily in agreement. While many see him as an outside corner, he was used primarily in the middle of the field with the Tide.
When used as an outside cornerback, he showed a physical presence and was able to bring down ball carriers while engaging in contact with blockers.
Against Arkansas, Fitzpatrick jammed the Razorbacks’ lead blocker on the swing pass off the line of scrimmage and was able to limit the play. His first step and reaction on the play was elite.
He consistently reacted to what offenses were doing. Even when he lined up off the line of scrimmage, he was able to use his reaction speed and burst to track down the ball carrier.
Though many project that Fitzpatrick will play more on the outside, it seems crazy that some teams would not want to use his ability in the middle of the field. His speed, football intelligence and burst allow him to cover a lot of ground when he is used there.
Fitzpatrick can run with opposing pass catchers and limit the window that the quarterback is able to use. In the above play, he locks down a route down the field.
Here we see Fitzpatrick tasked with covering an in-route. He keeps his hip square to the line of scrimmage with some light contact at the top of the route. He’s able to break inside with the receiver.
Occasionally, Fitzpatrick will lunge in coverage at the top of defending routes and put himself out of position. He will open his hips too early to the outside when he should stay square so he can go inside.
Fitzpatrick is fun to watch in zone coverage. Saban used his defensive star to take away several routes that attacked the flats and the outside parts of the field. Fitzpatrick has a knack for coverage and picking up receivers who travel into his part of the field.
Fitzpatrick also was a threat to come off the edge to rush the passer and attack the pocket. There were times, though. when he was too aggressive and did not break down where he should have to make the tackle.
He came in aggressively from the nickel, as well.
Fitzpatrick is the type of prospect that evaluators must nitpick to find something wrong. He should hear his name early in April’s draft – potentially in the top five.
(You can follow Zac Blackerby on Twitter @Zblackerby)
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