Silver and Black Report continues its series on potential Oakland Raiders draft picks. Today, we look at Minkah Fitzpatrick who could be a natural fit for the Raiders and Paul Guenther’s new defensive scheme.
When watching the film of Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, you might just arrive at the same conclusion we did: he may be the most versatile player in the 2018 NFL Draft class.
Ironically enough, his versatility and inability to squarely be pigeon-holed to any definitive position, is potentially causing him to slide down many analysts draft boards. A near certain Top-5 pick just a few months ago, some mock drafts are now pegging him to go as low as the 10-15 range. On video review, it’s clear that teams will need to be creative with Fitzpatrick, and he won’t be a schematic fit for everyone, but based on his on-field production, he was so impressive that it could be argued that teams could build their entire secondary around this guy.
Fitzpatrick’s role has seemingly developed and evolved over the last 2 seasons at Alabama. He would line up all over the field, be it as a slot corner, outside corner, 2-deep and single high safety, and even as a linebacker on occasion. He primarily lined up as a slot corner in 2017, and played safety when Alabama went to a base formation. He seldom played outside in 2017, though he spent considerable time there the previous season. In essence, Fitzpatrick can be regarded as a “Mr. Fixit” for any team needing to plug a number of holes. At the same time, for teams with established defenses, Fitzpatrick can be the type of gadget player to add a number of wrinkles to their scheme.
What was impressive about Fitzpatrick on film was his willingness and desire to get physical both against the run and the pass.
Here, he engages the blocker coming down hard, forcing them off balance, cutting the space for the receiver to get any yardage after the catch. This drive he has coming downhill on his assignment is one of the necessary traits to play as a safety, both in the box and up high. At times however, his physicality can cause him to rush his assignment and play slightly out of control, as shown below.
He identifies the lane the running back is going through, but enters to plug it recklessly, diving at the back’s legs and subsequently missing the tackle. Some may see it as a concern of Fitzpatrick’s desire to put his head in compromising positions, but it is better to be overly aggressive as a defensive back, rather than too passive. His aggression can be harnessed by a competent coaching staff moving forward. Ensuring he plays with control is going to be a must for whoever drafts him, otherwise teams will use his aggressiveness against him as shown in the following clip. Fitzpatrick moves in on the running back at too high a speed, losing his balance allowing for the running back to easily cut back inside.
Fitzpatrick’s most impressive trait is his spatial awareness, particularly in the passing game. Time and time again, he has a knack for positioning himself in precisely the right place to make the play, or to force the quarterback to move to his next receiving option. He has elite ball skills and his positioning allows him to make impressive use of said skills.
In the above clip, Fitzpatrick is playing under the receiver, with the safety over the top. He displays a near flawless technique, staying right with the receiver and trusting his help over the top. The receiver makes the catch but only because the safety was late. It is rare to see such polish at the collegiate level.
The following clip also shows Fitzpatrick’s high football IQ, dropping back at the right depth in his zone to take away the read for the quarterback. He is so quick to identify the route combination and gets to the open space accordingly.
From The Slot
Fitzpatrick spent the majority of defensive snaps in the slot in 2017. It is there from which he made the most plays and looked most comfortable. What separates Fitzpatrick from many other collegiate defensive backs is his quick play recognition from the slot. He is a true representation of the “see ball, get ball” mantra, emphasized by this play in which he closes on the receiver in open space so quickly before making the tackle for next to no gain.
His high football IQ doesn’t necessarily mean he gambles on routes, but he uses it to his advantage. At times, it appears as though he is running the route for the receiver.
Here we see Fitzpatrick knows the route his receiver is running, and doesn’t get fooled at all with the stutter and fakes going into the top of the route. It’s an eerily impressive trait for a collegiate player.
Too frequently Fitzpatrick allows separation on his receiver when coming out of a break. As shown here, the receiver is clearly open on a slant that 99.99% of QBs in the NFL will make every single time. It is correctable but a concern given this happened multiple times during my film study of him.
In the following play, Alabama are in man coverage. Every defender is locked in tight on their man, except for Fitzpatrick. He has given up so much separation that it’s actually difficult to determine whether he though it was a zone play and he was passing the receiver off to the next man.
He is an excellent blitzer from the slot. His timing and speed are well noted through multiple games. Even though he doesn’t reach the QB on this play, he gets around the offensive lineman with ease, without being slowed down much, forcing a hurried throw.
Schematic For For Raiders
Fitzpatrick is one of those guys who can fix whatever hole a defense has in their secondary. He excels in the slot and that is where he makes the majority of his plays. Subpackages make up to 75% of defensive snaps in a game, so he would be in his best role for a large portion of the time. It is not hard to see all the fire zones and green dog blitzes Paul Guenther would be scheming up in his head with Fitzpatrick in mind.
When in a base 4-3 defensive formation, Fitzpatrick is suited to either the outside corner or deep safety positions. On reviewing his 2017 film, he didn’t spend enough time at either free safety or outside corner to definitively say he would be a fine player in either role when in a base defense. The key factor here is the Raiders new secondary coach Derrick Ansley. Ansley has spent the past two years at Alabama as Fitzpatrick’s positional coach. Reggie McKenzie will sure to look to Ansley for direction on some of the key question marks surrounding this talented player.