Coming into the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, there was widespread speculation regarding what the Miami Dolphins would do with their selection. Would the team choose to bolster their secondary with the likes of Derwin James or Minkah Fitzpatrick? Would they instead choose to fill the obvious need at the linebacker position with studs like Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds? Or would they throw us fans a curve ball and take a quarterback — either by trading up to select their guy or having him fall into their laps at 11?
As the event drew near, the prevailing thought was that the Dolphins would stand pat and make their selection at 11, opting not to give up the capital it would take to move up into the top 10. It was also widely speculated that the team would choose UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, should he somehow fall down the 11. It seemed an unfathomable scenario to most coming into the night, but that’s almost how things played out. Almost.
Rosen was still, somehow, on the board at the 10th selection, just one spot before the Dolphins. It was looking like the anti-Tannehill crowd was going to get their wish and the team would indeed select their quarterback of the future. Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Arizona Cardinals pulled off a trade to leap-frog the Dolphins. Instead of winding up on the beaches of South Beach, Rosen instead stays closer to home and instantly becomes a contender to start from the outset.
For some fans this was a crushing move. To others, like myself, it was almost a sigh of relief. With Rosen off the board, the team was free to choose a position of greater need. They were free to hand the reigns of the offense back to incumbent QB Ryan Tannehill, and instead improve upon a defense that let the team down time and time again last year. But who would the pick be?
Making it official!
Minkah Fitzpatrick ➡Miami!!
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) April 27, 2018
It ended up being former Alabama standout Minkah Fitzpatrick, and I for one could not be happier with the pick. Nick Saban may be a four-letter word to most Dolphins fans, and rightfully so, but if there’s one thing the man does well, it’s churn out NFL-caliber talent. Fitzpatrick is the next in a long line of highly talented Crimson Tide players. Why am I so high on this pick? What does Fitzpatrick bring to the team? The answer to that question is two-fold.
First is the on-the-field contribution that Fitzpatrick will make. Fitzpatrick was the top-rated safety prospect on my board coming into the 2018 NFL Draft, and arguably would have been the top cornerback too, had he been expected to play that position at this level. Fitzpatrick fits the mold of the modern-day defensive back. He’s big. He’s physical. He has long arms and good speed at the position. But more than all of that, Fitzpatrick brings dynamic diversity to the Dolphins defensive backfield, and the defense as a whole.
The addition of Fitzpatrick gives the Dolphins the ability to play around with their defensive backfield and give opposing offensive coordinators nightmares. Miami now has three safeties they can play in base packages, all at the same time if they so choose. Putting Fitzpatrick opposite Reshad Jones gives the Dolphins freedom to play T.J. McDonald as a linebacker. In that same vein, the team could choose to do the same with Fitzpatrick, lining McDonald up across from Jones. Both players have the type of build to be successful in that “Rover” position reminiscent of the Cardinals stud S/LB Deone Bucannon or the Falcons Deion Jones.
But as we all know, it’s becoming more and more a passing league every year. Teams are playing fewer snaps in their base defensive packages than ever before. How does the addition of Fitzpatrick factor in there? Drafting Fitzpatrick, along with the return of last year’s first round pick Raekwon McMillan, will vastly improve the Dolphins biggest weakness from last year, covering running backs and tight ends. Kiko Alonso was a liability when asked to perform those duties last year, but these additions mean he likely won’t be asked to again this season.
Fitzpatrick has the speed and range to be asked to cover the top tight ends in the league. He also has the physicality to hang with the tougher match-ups at the position, primarily Rob Gronkowski. From an on-the-field standpoint, this selection gets no worse than a B+, and I would go ahead and give them an A.
As I said, this move was a two-fold win. The second part of that win is the ability to stand pat at 11 and not give up the draft capital to move up. Moving up in the draft is never a cheap proposition. It’s even less cheap when teams know you’re moving up to draft a quarterback. In order to move up and grab Rosen, the Dolphins likely would have been asked to relinquish multiple selections. The Dolphins do have two 4ths and two 7ths, and they may have been able to get away with moving both 4s and a 7. But more likely, the would have been asked for at least a 3rd.
For a team with as many holes on defense and along the offensive line as the Dolphins, not giving up those picks is a win. It remains to be seen what the team does with the rest of their selections, but with the choice to stay at 11 and take Minkah Fitzpatrick, I like where they’re positioned going into Day 2.