Thursday, September 20, 2018
  • USF Sports Bulletin
  • Joey Knight

Options aplenty for the NFL team that lands Minkah Fitzpatrick

Derrick Ansley does not know what exact position Minkah Fitzpatrick will play in the NFL.

That depends on the specific needs of the Bucs or whatever other team uses a high first-round pick to draft the former Alabama defensive back in April.

Fitzpatrick could be a cornerback. Or a safety. Or a nickelback. Or some combination of the three.

"He's not going to be a guy that's going to be drafted as a corner or a drafted as a safety," said Ansley, Fitzpatrick's position coach at 'Bama. "He's going to be drafted as a football player."

That's what Fitzpatrick was in college — a pure football player who might have been the biggest defensive star of the Nick Saban era.

"Minkah has just got all the right stuff," Saban said. "He's got a lot of ability, but he's really driven in terms of work ethic, preparation, wanting to be successful."

In three seasons before declaring for the draft last week, Fitzpatrick started 38 games for a Crimson Tide team that made three national title games (and won two of them). His statistics are impressive enough on their own: He ranked fourth on the team with 60 tackles (8 for a loss) with eight pass breakups, three quarterback hurries, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. No player in program history returned more interceptions for a touchdown over a career than Fitzpatrick (four).

But those numbers and his size (6-foot-1, 202 pounds) don't convey everything about why he's expected to be a top-10 pick. He really can play every position in the secondary, giving his future employer multiple options.

Fitzpatrick began his career at STAR — Alabama's version of the nickelback. When Eddie Jackson suffered a season-ending injury in 2016, Fitzpatrick shifted to safety — and earned All-America honors there.

He made his first impact in last week's title game when he blitzed on the first snap but turned around to chase down running back Nick Chubb for a 1-yard loss.

But a three-play sequence later in the half showed his versatility. He lined up in the box on the first play and reversed course to defend a receiver. On the next snap, he was back at safety, sprinting forward to trip up running back Sony Michel. He ended the sequence by shutting down the slot receiver.

Three plays. Three different positions. Three different jobs.

"He's blessed with the physical tools to do it," said Ansley, who will reportedly join Jon Gruden's new Raiders staff. "He's got the intellect to do it, and he's got the willingness to do it."

The obvious comparison has been to Derwin James — Florida State's do-it-all defender who lined up in at least six different positions this year. But the better comparison might be a different FSU product — Jalen Ramsey, who similarly slid around the Seminoles' secondary before becoming an All-Pro cornerback in his second year with the Jaguars.

Fitzpatrick had an even more decorated college career than Ramsey; he capped his final year by winning the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player) and Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back), plus the national title.
If Fitzpatrick is still available when the Bucs pick seventh, he'd be an intriguing option. Tampa Bay had one of the NFL's worst pass defenses and could have openings at cornerback and safety. Fitzpatrick could fill either.
Fitzpatrick said his versatility comes from film study and preparation — understanding every detail of how he fits in to each play.

"The coaches do a really good preparing me, because it's a lot of them challenging me, asking me — can you do this? Can you do that?" Fitzpatrick said.

Does he ever tell them no?

"No …" Fitzpatrick said. "That's why I am where I am, because I never say no."

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