The Miami Dolphins selected Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick with the 11th overall pick in Thursday night’s first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The move gives Miami a versatile player who can cover like a cornerback, play in the box like a linebacker or strong safety, or play deep like a free safety. He should solve the team’s inability to over tight ends, and he should free up Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald to focus more on the run-support aspect of the game, which is where they excel.
Miami sat still in the 11th position despite rampant speculation that they would try to jump up in the round to grab one of the year’s top quarterback prospects. Instead, they waited for one of the top defensive - and one of the top overall - prospects to fall perfectly to them. How is the Dolphins’ first round being graded?
Miami probably never thought Fitzpatrick would be available with the 11th pick. In that regard they got a little lucky. Sometimes that happens in the draft. The Dolphins are another team that needed a playmaker on defense. Fitzpatrick can do a little bit of everything. He was used a lot in the slot, but he’s good in single high coverage and he can come up against the run. This guy has everything you want in a star player.
They get a Malcolm Jenkins type of player. He can do so many things well, but where does he play?
The Dolphins didn’t go get a top-notch quarterback, instead waiting to see if Ryan Tannehill returns healthy and productive. We’ll see if they pick a QB later as a backup plan. I can’t blame them for taking Fitzpatrick, though, as he will push Miami’s defense -- not just secondary -- to another level.
Fitzpatrick is arguably the most versatile defender in this draft, and he’s joining defensive coordinator Matt Burke’s somewhat traditional zone scheme. Will the scheme expand? Burke has made great use of veteran Reshad Jones’s unique blitzing ability. Fitzpatrick must be employed in those packages; he dominated as an edge blitzer in college. He can also slide down and cover the slot, presenting an option for replacing No. 3 corner Bobby McCain, whom some in the organization believe is rock-solid and others think doesn’t make enough big plays. Big plays shouldn’t be a concern with Fitzpatrick. It’ll be interesting to see where he operates in base situations as a rookie. Most likely, he’ll be interchangeable in centerfield and the box, like Jones, with whom he’ll pair for the next several years.
Most modern NFL offensive tactics are designed to isolate and attack the nickelback.
Teams place speedsters like Tyreek Hill and big, athletic Rob Gronkowskitypes in the slot specifically so they can create mismatches against the nickelback. They build formations and personnel groupings to purposely place the nickelback in a bind.
The RPO is the NFL’s darling strategy right now—your know-it-all friends like to explain the play’s design; your know-even-more friends like to say that it’s all just play action with a fancy name—because the Eagles used run-pass options to win the Super Bowl. In its most basic form, the RPO attacks the nickelback by forcing him to guess run or pass and then does the opposite.
Nickelback has been a starting position in the NFL for years and is one of the most critical positions on the field. But because teams use the same depth charts that they have mimeographed since the 1970s, nickelbacks are still thought of as role players or niche fillers. That outdated thinking even extends to the draft, where great nickel defenders like Minkah Fitzpatrick are still met with, Gosh, I’m just not sure if he is a safety or a cornerback.
Fitzpatrick is the best nickelback prospect in NFL history. (Tyrann Mathieu had character concerns and was also used on offense, confusing his draft profile.) He’s exactly the defender teams need to counter the RPO and mix-and-match tactics in the slot, because his ability to attack the backfield will make offenses account for him, rather than vice-versa. He also has excellent play-recognition skills and the quickness to regroup after play-fakes. While no one human can cover both Tyreek and Gronk in the slot, Fitzpatrick has the size and speed to move outside or to deep safety so a quicker defender can slide to the nickel. Fitzpatrick never has to leave the field on defense.
Fitzpatrick is a cross between the Honey Badger and Malcolm Jenkins. He’s the vanguard of a new type of defender that the NFL needs more of. He should have been drafted higher. The Dolphins, despite ostensibly being strong at “safety,” will be happy he fell to them.
That’s right: The Dolphins did something right. We’re as shocked as you are.
Over Tremaine Edmunds? That’s kind of a surprise. This is a solid pick, however, as Fitzpatrick will be able to solve the same sort of problems Edmunds could have. The Dolphins have been miserable against tight ends and pass-catching running backs for years, which is obviously a huge issue when going up against the Patriots. Fitzpatrick will be able to help immensely in that regard, so that helps. There is some concern about Alabama players’ durability - which is why they’ve dropped in recent drafts - but considering Fitzpatrick could have been chosen at No. 9, I think this is a good choice for Miami.
The Dolphins could have gone in a number of directions with this pick, but Fitzpatrick was just too talented to pass up. He can play anywhere in the secondary and make a game-changing impact. Expect Miami to deploy him in the same way Arizona used Tyrann Mathieu.
The temptation was there to transition from QB Ryan Tannehill. Instead, the Dolphins picked up one of the most exciting defenders in the draft. Fitzpatrick would have been a fine pick in the top 5. In a choice between Fitzpatrick and Derwin James, Miami couldn’t have gone wrong with either of them. Best all-around DB in the draft. Saban sic’d him on any top receiver the Tide was facing or had him cover over the top as a safety. Considering Alabama’s DBs typically do well in the league, this was a solid pick.