The term ‘Swiss Army knife’ is probably one of the most hackneyed and overused phrases in the vernacular of NFL fans. If a player primarily known as a reciever runs with the ball a few times, he’s called a Swiss Army knife. If a defensive tackle gets the football on a goal line play, he’s called a Swiss Army knife. And, yes, if a defensive end who plays for the Miami Dolphins runs forty yards in a straight line, against a much larger and slower opposing player, we’re ready to anoint him as the next A.J. Duhe and pencil him in as a Pro Bowl starter.
Every once in a while, though, a player comes along who actually lives up to the hype that’s being generated about him. With the eleventh overall pick in the first round of the 2018 draft, the Dolphins were fortunate enough to find such a player still on the board, in Minkah Fitzpatrick. It has been nearly thirteen years since Nick Saban (I love it when my device auto corrects to ‘Nick Satan’, and I have to change it back manually) jilted the Dolphins for the University of Alabama, but give the guy credit for one thing: he knows how to develop defensive players. To be sure, Fitzpatrick would still have been drafted high if he’d attended a division III school, but playing at Alabama resulted in his coming out of college a finished product. There are still some folks out there who claim that the Dolphins should have chosen Florida safety Derwin James instead, citing James’ size and greater physicality. To those guys, I say, let’s have this conversation again in two or three years. James is pretty much limited to being a strong, in the box safety only. According to Pro Football Focus, the 944 defensive snaps Fitzpatrick was in on last season broke down this way: slot corner, 379, boundary corner, 281, free safety, 166, strong safety, 95, edge/blitz/tight end coverage, 23. If you could clone Fitzpatrick and put eleven of him out on the field for games, allowing for weight differential, you’d probably have the number one defense in the NFL every year.
While he’s rightly known as an exceptionally smart player, he’s also a better athlete than people think. He ran a 10.86 100 meters in high school; only a handful of people around the world have been timed under ten seconds, insane Usain Bolt being one of them. I saw at least four plays last season in which an opposing player was streaking for the end zone, and it looked like no one was going to catch him, but Fitzpatrick did. What I really like about him is his relentlessly sticky, physical coverage. He’s not afraid to put his hands on opposing receivers, and as he continues to refine his technique, and starts to get more respect from the officials, he won’t be called for pass interference as often. His interception return for a touchdown at Minnesota gave us a tantalizing glimpse of everything Fitzpatrick is all about, and will hopefully be bringing us for many years to come.