The words we use to define players who can play multiple roles on a football team, continue to improve. Dion Jordan was supposed to be a chess piece that the Dolphins could use at defensive end, outside linebacker and even at tight end. We all remember watching him run stride-for-stride with Rob Gronkowski. It was a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, Jordan never panned out in Miami, but has since rejuvenated his career in Seattle. Even more recently, the addition of T.J McDonald was supposed to sure up the Dolphins’ secondary, while adding a presence in the middle of the defense. McDonald struggled to communicate with Jones, and the duo never quite lived up to the hype they built in training camp.
Flash forward to the league meetings in Orlando, when world-renowned beat writers were given the opportunity to sit down and eat breakfast with Dolphins’ head coach, Adam Gase. Lots of questions were thrown his way, as he sipped coffee and ate elaborate pastries between each question. At the time, Baker Mayfield was the talk of the town, but one nugget would foreshadow the Dolphins plans for the 2018 NFL draft.
“I don’t think it really turned out as well as we thought with what we saw in training camp,” Gase said. “That eight week layoff, T.J. did a great job of being ready to go, being able to physically to be able to do that. [But] we didn’t have that chemistry we were looking for. It took those guys a while to really get that feel for each other. It will be better getting to training camp and for us to be able to continue that growth.
As they do so frequently, the Dolphins were quick to award T.J McDonald with a new contract, based on his performance in training camp. McDonald is a fine player, but he’s not the natural free safety fans have desired for years. Certainly, the Dolphins would look to fill this need at some point in the draft, but what came next was a scenario many could only dream.
The first-round of the draft came and went, and although quarterbacks consumed all of the talk leading up to the draft, an elite player fell to 11 and made general manager Chris Grier’s decision an easy one.
With the 11th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins select….
MINKAH FITZPATRICK, SAFETY, ALABAMA
In my honest opinion, there was no player in this draft that could help the Dolphins more in 2018 (and beyond) than Minkah Fitzpatrick. Miami has desperately needed an instinctive play-maker at free safety for years. A safety who can play sideline-to-sideline in coverage, but also line up anywhere throughout the defense. They had a chance at Earl Thomas, but decided to trade back for Jared Odrick a few years ago. Now, the Dolphins have a player that is best referred to as “Nick Saban’s son”, a honor like no other.
As we’ve heard 100 times from 50 different people in the last seven days, Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of only three players to win the Thorpe Award (best defensive back) and the Bednarik Award (best overall defender) in the s. The other two players to do so are, Charles Woodson and Patrick Peterson. The Dolphins can only hope Fitzpatrick lives up to those expectations.
Since last Thursday, I have watched 9 games on Minkah Fitzpatrick and his play throughout the course of the last two seasons. Below are some of the plays that stood out, and my opinion on a player that could immediately become one of the best defenders this team has had in years. Enjoy.
Instincts are not something you can teach. You must have a certain desire and willingness to succeed, no matter what the cost. Furthermore, you must be a worldly-talent, with skills that separate you from the rest of the pack. Everything I just described, is Minkah Fitzpatrick.
At Alabama, Nick Saban used Minkah in a plethora of ways. He lined up on the perimeter, at nickel corner, in the box, and at safety. This is what makes him such a valuable piece to the Dolphins’ defense. He truly is a Swiss Army knife that can kill offenses in a variety of ways. Here is a prime example of how Saban utilized Fitzpatrick, by moving him around in his intricate defense.
Here, you see the type of player Fitzpatrick has become. He gets a nice jump off the ball, but the offensive lineman gets just enough to prevent him from getting to the quarterback. Minkah gets tripped up a bit at the line of scrimmage, but is able to regain his balance and chase the running back down from behind.
When this play begins, Minkah is almost completely out of the picture. The play is a designed draw, and the slightest hesitation forces Fitzpatrick to drop back in coverage. As soon as he realizes it’s a run, he shoots down into the box, and attacks the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage. Elite speed. Elite instincts. Elite player.
Below is another example of his ability to diagnose a play, plant his feet, and break on the football. He drops back into what appears to be zone coverage. Much like the play earlier, the running back slips out into the flats uncovered. The quarterback sees the check-down and drops the ball off to the running back. Fitzpatrick reads the play, reacts, and makes the tackle for a short gain.
And again, another prime example of how quick he’s able to read and react to a play. Fitzpatrick drops back in coverage, sees the screen develop, and shoots down into the box to make the stop for a short gain. Very few players in all of college football have better instincts and can react as quickly as him.
One more look, at how quickly he sees a play develop and attacks the football.
A blitzing defensive back is dangerous, and Minkah Fitzpatrick is the epitome of dangerous. In this play, Minkah shows he’s blitzing a bit too early and nearly jumps offside. Despite giving away that he’s bringing the heat, the offense is unable to account for his speed, as he blows past the lineman on route to the quarterback. He may have been offside, but that’s on the referee to be honest.
Another example of how dangerous Fitzpatrick is blitzing the quarterback. No one accounts for him as he gets a free shot at the quarterback, forcing the incompletion.
It is extremely hard to find all-22 tape on college players. Since my access isn’t the same as some more prestigious writers, oI do the best I can with what I’m given. Here’s a great example of how fluid Fitzpatrick is in coverage, and his ability to run stride-for-stride with opposing wide receivers is an art-form.
Here is another example of how well Fitzpatrick is in coverage. He sees the receiver settle underneath, and breaks no the football. Perfect timing and execution leads to the pass break up.
Same thing here. Fitzpatrick sees the receiver coming out of the backfield and makes a break on the football. The timing is perfect and he prevents the big play.
With the game on the line, Washington’s quarterback heaves up a prayer into the end zone. Unfortunately, college football’s best defender is back in coverage. Great interception and return, to seal the win for the Crimson Tide.
It almost looks like Fitzpatrick is the one running the route. He sees the play develop as the receiver begins to curl towards the sidelines. With his eyes on the quarterback, he sees an opportunity to jump in front of the errant throw, resulting in an interception. Minkah’s pick-6 gives Alabama an early lead. Unfortunately for Texas A&M, it wouldn’t be his only one on this day.
The pressure from the defensive line forces a poor throw from the quarterback, into the waiting arms of Fitzpatrick. With the ball in his hands, Fitzpatrick becomes a play-maker and has the ability to take it to pay dirt, is apparent. 50+ yard interception return for a touchdown, his second of the day.
Outside pressure from the defensive end, forces a terrible throw from the LSU quarterback. Fitzpatrick is able to see the ball last minute, and makes an exceptional diving interception.
Fitzpatrick has the skill-set and work ethic to become one of the NFL’s top defenders and his presence in the secondary will make everyone around him that much better. With his addition, Reshad Jones will have the ability to freelance more, and we should see more of T.J McDonald in the box, acting as a linebacker more than a coverage safety. The Dolphins defense got significantly better last Thursday, and the addition of Fitzpatrick will allow the team to use a variety of different formations. Minkah excels in all aspects of the game and will give Matt Burke the freedom to disguise coverage pre-snap. Miami now has a true cover safety that can match-up with the league’s elite tight ends, something that has plagued the Dolphins for years. Minkah Fitzpatrick was the perfect draft pick for the Miami Dolphins and should help turn the defense into a force to be reckoned with. Fitzpatrick immediately becomes one of the team’s best defensive players, and will remain a cornerstone of the franchise for many years to come.