Shoes to Fill: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Much like Saquon Barkley was often considered the best pound-for-pound offensive player in college football, Minkah Fitzpatrick has a similar pedigree on the defensive side of the football. Fitzpatrick was a consensus All-American in 2016, and a unanimous selection last season. He also won the Thorpe Award, given to the top defensive back in the country, and the Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player.
Fitzpatrick earned his hardware with outstanding production. A Freshman All-American in 2015, he accounted for 45 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and two interceptions – both of which he returned for touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound New Jersey native also scored twice as a sophomore, when he picked off six passes and logged 66 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
The 2017 season was more of the same, as Fitzpatrick racked up 60 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception while playing a variety of positions for Nick Saban on defense, including safety, corner and as a hybrid linebacker-safety.
Because Fitzpatrick was such a versatile playmaker with a very high Football IQ, he’s one of the most difficult players in the country to replace. But he’s not the only one: the national champions will field an entirely new starting secondary in 2018 with safety Ronnie Harrison leaving early for the NFL and Levi Wallace, Anthony Averett and Tony Brown all out of eligibility.
The most important new name to know is Deionte Thompson. Though he was Harrison’s backup at free safety, Thompson has the skills to play Fitzpatrick’s Swiss Army Knife-life role in the Alabama defensive backfield. In two seasons, Thompson has accounted for 34 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception and one pass breakup. However, he has obviously earned more playing time of late. Thirteen of Thompson’s tackles came in his last four games, including four in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson and three in the CFP National Championship Game.