Combine Notebook: Safeties Steal the Show as Workouts Wrap Up in Indy

    Minkah FitzpatrickMinkah FitzpatrickAssociated Press

    Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick is a top-five talent, and nothing he did at the NFL combine changed that. In many ways, his performance confirmed what everyone wanted to see after his impressive junior season. 

    What it didn’t do was define his position at the next level. That’s OK, because it doesn’t matter.

    Fitzpatrick is a hybrid playmaker built for the modern game. The 21-year-old defensive back captured the Chuck Bednarik Award as college football’s best defensive player, and the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. His value to an NFL team originates from system flexibility and outstanding leadership. 

    “Preparation. Notetaker in every meeting. Wants to be great at everything he does. Can cover, tackle, ball skills, pass rush. The total package,” an Alabama coach told Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman. Alabama head coach Nick Saban referred to Fitzpatrick as one of his “favorite guys,” per’s Stephanie Apstein.

    Fitzpatrick’s attitude and work ethic make him a culture-changer. However, the conversation will continue about how NFL teams can best use him.

    His combine performance may further complicate things since he ran well, posting a 4.47-second 40-yard dash. Meanwhile, his length, fluidity and explosiveness can be questioned to varying degrees. 

    This is the give-and-take teams must weigh with Fitzpatrick. He isn’t a safety or a cornerback; he’s both. He can even be a nickel linebacker, too, if a team needs him to fill that role. 

    His combine performance showed he’s a well-rounded athlete who isn’t deficient in any particular area. He can step onto an NFL field and do almost everything. While slot corner may be his “optimal position,” he’s fast enough to play outside occasionally. He’ll almost assuredly line up as both a free and strong safety at times, too.

    Today’s game is about matchups. A 6’1″, 201-pound defensive back with the ability to play both inside and outside corner, single-high and box safety, defend the run and blitz the quarterback is the complete package, even if no one knows how to define his position.