The Miami Dolphins chose Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, hoping he could be the X-factor needed to change the landscape of their defense. Through the smallest of samples sizes, its so far so good in South Beach.
Fitzpatrick has been a versatile chess piece through the team's two early wins over the Titans and Jets. He's also been present in several big plays that have been key moments in each win.
The presence of Fitzpatrick has been vital for Miami. Thus far, the Dolphins have come up short from it's previous early selections on defense in 2017. Second year defenders Charles Harris and Raekwon McMillan either struggled to get snaps (Harris) or struggled greatly with the speed of the game (McMillan) to this point in their respective careers.
Getting a boom in Fitzpatrick has helped the Dolphins play stout, physical defense in space and helped address one of their long time bugaboos: tackling.
Tackling On The Boundary
In Miami's opening win over the Tennessee Titans, the defense faced an early 4th and goal to go from the goal line. It was Minkah who came up clutch as the point man on the line of scrimmage.
This is simply a wonderful job of preparation and execution. These were two of the essential traits that allowed Fitzpatrick to become a coveted prospect prior to the 2018 Draft. Already, in his first snaps in the league, he's proving that those qualities will continue to be separators from his peers.
But note Fitzpatrick's control in space and his length as a tackler? These were present again in the Dolphins' Week 2 victory over the Jets.
Now, from an off coverage position, Fitzpatrick processes the play concept with quickness. He, again, defeats the body across his face and then comes to balance in an effort to square up and extend to finish the play.
As the team's 5th defensive back, Fitzpatrick has consistently been put into the box throughout the first two games. There, his tackling, slipperiness as a defender and length can influence tight ends, run support and in zone coverage.
But those who scouted Fitzpatrick before the 2018 Draft are well aware that versatility and multiplicity are additional factors that make Minkah such a rare breed.
Late in Miami's win against the Jets, rookie QB Sam Darnold took a shot down the right sideline to WR Robby Anderson, looking Fitzpatrick's way in the process. The coverage was air-tight, leaving the ball falling to the ground and putting the Jets in a 3rd and 10 behind the chains.
Targeting Fitzpatrick in coverage was a key piece of the day but the Jets had zero success in the process.
The Dolphins not only hit a home run with their 1st round pick of 2018, it's looking like they might have a Pro Bowl player as a rookie. Health willing, Fitzpatrick is already the most diverse defender on the team and his value will be amplified when he plays against skilled tight ends and needs to lock up in man coverage.
In time, Fitzpatrick will find himself with endless accolades. Expect the Dolphins' defense to ride Fitzpatrick to new heights this season and beyond.