The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece is on Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Junior | 6’1″ and 202 Pounds | Projection: Round 1
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.46 sec | bench reps: 14 | 3-cone: DNP | 20-yard shuttle: DNP | vertical: 33 in | broad: 121 in
It’d be tough to find two mock drafts with an identical first 10 picks, but you’d also be hard-pressed to find a mock without Fitzpatrick as the first defensive back off the board. Alabama’s all-time leader in pick-sixes joins Charles Woodson and Patrick Peterson as the only defensive backs to win the Butkus and Thorpe awards in the same season. Fitzpatrick combines elite production with a squeaky clean background and one helluva nickname from his college teammates: Coach Saban’s son. After excelling at both slot corner and safety during each of his three seasons at Alabama, Fitzpatrick is expected to become the Crimson Tide’s third first-round defensive back since 2014.
Sometimes prospects without a true position are viewed in a negative light due to a lack of professional comps. Another way to view these types of players is as ultra versatile, something that has become increasingly important in today’s NFL. Nobody in this year’s class embodies the upside of versatility more than Fitzpatrick, as he spent 42 collegiate games lined up as a slot corner, outside corner, safety, and nickel linebacker. The Crimson Tide’s version of Malcolm Jenkins was Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best cornerback against the run in 2017, and he was the only draft-eligible corner ranked in the top 20 in each of PFF’s signature coverage stats in 2016. Fitzpatrick routinely played well in his plethora of championship games and deserves plenty of credit for holding JuJu Smith-Schuster to a 1-9-0 receiving line in 2016.
Fitzpatrick possesses the skill set to hold his own at any position in the secondary, but he was most lethal around the line of scrimmage. He routinely demonstrated an uncanny ability to read and react to screens his way while also possessing the athletic ability and physicality needed to make the play.
Whoever drafts Fitzpatrick won’t necessarily need to limit him to strictly safety or cornerback; the likes of Byron Jones, Tyrann Mathieu, and Mark Barron regularly rotate between the secondary and dime linebacker depending on the offense’s personnel. Still, it’d make sense if his future employer attempts first to see if he can excel as an outside cornerback given how valuable young studs Jalen Ramsey, Marshon Lattimore, and Tre’Davious White have been to their respective defenses. The question is whether Fitzpatrick can live up to those standards, as he played only 13 snaps on the outside in 2017.
It’s not surprising that a prospect with the ceiling of a No. 1 shutdown corner and the floor of versatile hybrid safety is a hot commodity across the league. Fitzpatrick will likely become the 24th defensive back to stand at least six feet tall and be selected as a top-10 pick over the past 25 years. The game is obviously different than it was in the ’90s, but the overwhelming majority of tall top-10 defensive backs who weighed less than 210 pounds wound up playing mostly full-time cornerback at the next level. Fitzpatrick’s nose for the ball and physical style are hardly a detriment on the outside, but it’s fair to question whether he’ll have the Day 1 impact Ramsey and Lattimore had considering his lack of experience as a true cover corner.