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Film Review: Minkah Fitzpatrick vs. Derwin James

Derwin James vs. Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the great draft debates of 2018. It seems like this is a topic that everyone has an opinion on and everyone either seems to be Team Minkah or Team Derwin. Make no mistake, both are super talented players and worthy of going in the first round of the draft. But the ultimate questions today are:

  1. Who’s the better player
  2. Who’s a better fit for the Packers

Before we jump to a breakdown of Minkah vs. Derwin I quickly want to discuss the safety position and whether or not Green Bay should even consider taking a safety at pick 14. As we sit today, Green Bay has HaHa Clinton-Dix, Josh Jones, Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans, and Jermaine Whitehead on the roster. While I actually like Brice, Whitehead, and Evans, no draft decisions are being made in the first round due to their presence on the team. Clinton-Dix is in the final year of his contract and Jones was up and down as a rookie (not to mention you could move Jones to more of a linebacker role if needed). You can certainly make an argument that Green Bay should be in the market for a safety.

But should they be in the market for a safety at pick 14? Green Bay let Morgan Burnett walk this offseason and he received a relatively pedestrian contract from the Steelers. Tyrann Mathieu received only $7 million in free agency and Kenny Vaccaro, Eric Reid, and Tre Boston are all currently free agents awaiting to be signed. To make things even more interesting, safeties are currently the lowest paid defensive position based on the average top-10 cap hits for 2018:

You can easily come to the conclusion this offseason that the safety position is beginning to be devalued. The only way that I see a safety being worth a top 15 pick is if the player can play a true single-high role which completely changes the face of a defense (see the Seahawks and Earl Thomas). I think there’s a serious question that needs to be asked: Would you rather sign Boston/Reid/Vaccaro and have pick 14, or draft Minkah/Derwin at pick 14?

Green Bay could have had their choice of reasonably priced safeties this year and chose not to pursue them. If they wanted to get a top end corner or edge rusher it would have cost them in excess of $12 million per year, and probably more than that. I believe a strong argument can be made that when a team is selecting top 15 they should be drafting players at premium positions; and with Green Bay’s needs at cornerback and edge rusher, those two positions would seem to make a lot more sense.

But enough about draft philosophy; let’s talk about what Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick bring to the table, who’s better, and how they would each help the Packers.

Derwin James

Derwin James is going to be a Pro Bowl safety in this league and will be a very good player for a very long time. I feel very confident about those statements. James is athletically gifted and his athleticism and potential are clearly evident when you put on any of his tape. I’ve seen Derwin do everything in college that you would possibly want to see on tape, including playing center field (although that's not ideally where you want him). Let’s take a look at what he can do:

Coverage

Rush off the edge

Bend/Blitz

Centerfield

Tackling/hitting

Leadership

For all of Derwin’s on-the-field traits, you often hear that his leadership and intangibles are what truly set him apart. This is a player that any team would love to have on their defense. He would immediately come in and challenge HaHa Clinton-Dix and Josh Jones to be the best versions of themselves. He would gel perfectly with guys like Mike Daniels and Tramon Williams. He could be the glue that really brings this defense together.

While I showed what Derwin can do above, there are also concerns about what he can truly bring to a defense. Derwin is probably best playing in the box, similar to Jones. I actually am also of the feeling that HaHa is better in the box as well. Where Derwin struggles is in the slot in man-to-man coverage and his coach Jimbo Fisher said it’s the number one thing that he needs to work on going forward.

My overall take on Derwin James is this: He’s a Pro-Bowl safety who is best in the box and may not be the ideal fit due to Clinton-Dix and Josh Jones already being on the roster. He would be a leader on defense from day one and would be an intimidating presence wherever he’s lined up. He’s a phenomenal tackler, hitter, and blitzer.

My concern is that this is a passing league and he may not have the coverage skills to warrant a top 15 pick. His ability to explode to the football and high-point the ball give him a chance in center field and Derwin and HaHa would complement each other well. While Derwin probably wouldn’t be my first choice at pick 14, should Green Bay turn in the card with his name on it there would be a lot to love about his fit on the team going forward.

Minkah Fitzpatrick

In a way it’s funny that we compare Minkah and Derwin. While both ultimately will end up playing safety in the NFL, both are completely different breeds of safety. While Derwin is the physical imposing safety who is best playing in the box, Minkah is the slot/coverage safety who can play both as a slot cornerback and as a safety ala Tyrann Mathieu. He’s not that dissimilar to Micah Hyde during his Packers career, although Minkah is a more athletically gifted version of what Hyde was in Green Bay.

When I popped on the tape back to back between Minkah and Derwin I simply came away more impressed with Derwin as a playmaker. To me Derwin just jumped off the tape a bit more. What helps Minkah is that his game is a bit better suited for the modern NFL. As mentioned earlier, this is a passing league and coverage ability is huge. While it’s Derwin’s biggest question mark its arguably Minkah’s strongest trait. Minkah may actually be good enough to play some outside corner as is, and certainly could do it in a pinch.

I should also note that while I thought Derwin stood out a bit more on tape, Minkah absolutely has some breathtaking plays and is an incredible athlete in his own regards. You will see Minkah get over aggressive at times but his instincts are fantastic and he can do many of the same things Derwin can. He’s a great blitzer, he’s a sound tackler, and he has the ability to track and make plays on the football. He’s a very complete safety. You can take a look at some of his tape here:

Explosiveness

Coverage

Blitzing

Effort

Minkah’s ability to come in from day one and add coverage ability at the safety position would be a welcome addition to the secondary. While Derwin James may have some redundancy with Clinton-Dix and Josh Jones, there is nobody on the roster who can do what Minkah does; he would give Mike Pettine a weapon that he doesn’t have in his arsenal and he would start in the nickel immediately.

Let’s take a look at who wins categorically:

  • Centerfield/Deep Safety: Derwin
  • Man coverage: Minkah
  • Athleticism: Derwin
  • Tackling/Hitting: Derwin
  • Blitzing: Derwin
  • Box Safety: Derwin
  • Versatility: Tie
  • Special Teams: Tie
  • Effort: Minkah
  • Leadership: Derwin
  • Team Fit: Minkah

My final take is that Derwin is a better football player but Minkah is better suited for today’s NFL and is a better fit for what Green Bay currently needs on defense. Nobody should be upset if either of these players are the choice at pick 14. I expect Derwin to be selected prior to Minkah on Thursday and that ultimately could benefit the Packers.

Based on my breakdown of safeties at the beginning of the article I still believe that Green Bay is better off looking at edge rusher or cornerback in round one, but if either of these players are drafted by the Packers it would be a huge win for the team and for the defense. There’s very limited downside with a selection of either of these impressive safeties.

More on Derwin from Zach: https://cheeseheadtv.com/blog/packers-interest-in-fsu-safety-derwin-jame...

Make sure to order the CheeseheadTV Draft Guide: https://cheeseheadtv.com/items

Listen to previous Friday Film Room sessions here: https://soundcloud.com/andy-herman-596646919

Make sure to tune in Friday’s at 9:50am on WDUZ: http://www.thefan1075.com/

__________________________

Andy is a graduate of UW-Oshkosh and owns & operates the Pack-A-Day Podcast. Andy has taken multiple courses in NFL scouting and is an Editor for Packer Report. You can find him on WFRV's Green Bay Nation and every Friday on the Friday Film Room on WDUZ . Andy grew up in Green Bay and is a lifelong season ticket holder - follow him on Twitter @AndyHermanNFL!

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Comments (41)

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jimtalkbox's picture

April 19, 2018 at 05:06 pm

From what I've seen from the two players' tape, I came to the exact same conclusion. As much as I like James' game, Fitzpatrick may fill a bigger need. Pass rush is way more important at this point though.

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Bert's picture

April 19, 2018 at 05:11 pm

Nice job Andrew. Thanks for the more detailed information and actually lending an opinion. I would be happy with either player at #14 as I think they both upgrade the defense. Kinda depends how Gute thinks they will fit into Pettine's scheme, but I would be thrilled if either or both were available at #14. Not saying that there aren't other players that would be better but I'll leave that to the folks who know more than me.

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Ryan Graham's picture

April 19, 2018 at 05:32 pm

Jim I agree 100%. However, my issue is I don't like this pass rusher class enough to reach for one at 14. say there's a trade into the back end of the first round, I like Landry slightly more than Davenport between 20-25. I do see some sleepers later in the draft that can contribute (Carter, Key, Dorance Armstrong). As far as the first round goes I would take BPA over need.

I guess that's why I'm making comments over the topic on CheeseheadTV and not making the big decisions.

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Ryan Graham's picture

April 19, 2018 at 05:24 pm

Yay for Andy Herman tape! Love these two guys. Two of four players I would like to see the Packers either let fall to 14 or trade up for - also including Tremaine Edmunds and Denzel Ward.

Hypothetically, four QBs go before the Packers pick, possibly five but for the sake of this hypo we will say four. Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, Roquon Smith, and Quenton Nelson are all but certain to go before GB goes on the clock, and I'd be willing to bet Vita Vea goes as well. That's eight picks accounted for almost guaranteed. If the Packers love - as reported for example - Denzel Ward, they can ensure they get him or one of those other three defensive difference makers as a consolation prize by trading up with a team only 2-4 picks ahead. This would cushion the blow of what they give up in return, also in turn making it easier to trade up later in the draft to make up for what they gave away with said first trade up in the first round.

The Packers havent been in such an advantageous spot in the draft since I can remember. I have to imagine BG is pushing hard for a trade with say Miami or Buffalo/Indianapolis if they work something out.

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worztik's picture

April 20, 2018 at 09:47 am

I like your reasoning Ryan!!! I’d give you an up vote but, apparently I don’t know how. Every time I try to give a down or up vote, it jumps over the intended commenter to the one above him/her!!! Therefore, I’m ignoring the “THUMBS” and just writing. Once again, good thinking buddy, obviously others have different points of view??? The up/down thumbs should be eliminated from this site so “followers” would be “forced” to make a comment and not just be a stinkin’ fool with a down vote because they can’t write and are envious of those that can!!! Just sayin’!!!

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worztik's picture

April 20, 2018 at 09:54 am

For reference, see RFG below!!! An opinion without a brain!!!

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Hagster's picture

April 22, 2018 at 09:34 am

I couldn’t agree more with all of what you’ve said. Those four guys I would be ecstatic if they fell to 14. However, if they sit pat at 14 I believe more and more that none of those guys will be there anymore at 14. That means if we really want those guys we’re gonna have to trade up, but who could we trade up with? We’ll have to at least be top twelve and it takes a kings ransom to move into that position even at 14 (I would guess at something like 11 with Miami they would demand at least our second and probably a third or fourth as well). So say we don’t move up we’ve got the guys like Landry, Davenport, and Jackson. The thing is one of those three will probably be around still around the 18 pick and beyond. As much as I hate the idea of it, at this point I think the best value might be to trade back a couple spots and still get the guy they would have taken at 14.

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Royalty Free GM's picture

April 19, 2018 at 05:50 pm

Good written piece, but I still think Gute is just a TT’s submissive bitch, if he drafts defense again, especially secondary, with the first pick.

One week to go. One thing to consider. You all may look kind of silly if you have written hundreds of articles and not a single one of you considered the one who will be picked first by the Packers.

There are some rumours circulating that Gute has been growing balls recently and will draft a guy named Ridley to secure Packers next Superbowl title...

We will see if that’s the case.

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Lare's picture

April 19, 2018 at 06:04 pm

Just from watching the combine, I was really impressed by Courtland Sutton, but I'm sure Gutekunst and the Packers scouting department know more about the WR's than I do.

It wouldn't bother me a bit to see the Packers target McGlinchey, Sutton, Hurst or Hernandez at some point during the draft.

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Bert's picture

April 19, 2018 at 06:30 pm

I'm a BPA guy. Drafting for need the past few years has really put the organization in a bind. No time like the present to right the ship and upgrade the roster on both sides of the ball.

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John Kirk's picture

April 19, 2018 at 09:16 pm

Might as well change mine to John Kirk Sutton. My man Courtland is going up the board. 1st WR taken.... and might be by us at 14.

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worztik's picture

April 20, 2018 at 09:59 am

John... I see Sutton becoming a fine player for some team but, not at #14!!! If we can get our CB first and trade back into the bottom of the 1st (before Dallas!), he’d be a really good choice... CB first!!!!!!!

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worztik's picture

April 20, 2018 at 10:01 am

I guess that wouldn’t be the bottom, though, as the boys pick at 19...

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Ryan Graham's picture

April 20, 2018 at 10:07 am

That's fine I'm not here to win a popularity contest. Just to bounce ideas around. Obviously nothing is certain until Thursday, I could be way off, and if I am it's not like I won or lost anything.

What I do know teams don't trade up to the 3rd pick to get a linebacker, the browns are almost certainly gonna take a QB with pick 1 or 4, Eli is 37 years old, Buffalo is looking to move up for a QB possibly. So that hypothetical is in fact possible. On the other hand, another hypothetical...a couple QBs fall and Arizona sells the farm to move up 1 spot for a sliding Rosen or Allen, allowing the Packers load up on 2nd and 3rd rounders. Not Babe Ruth calling my shot, but I'm just saying. Packers are in an extremely advantageous spot.

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BradHTX's picture

April 19, 2018 at 06:31 pm

I really want a safety combo named HaHa and Minkah.

That's all. Just sayin'.

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Tundraboy's picture

April 19, 2018 at 07:41 pm

Superb article. Going to be a long time before we are in such a favorable draft position,with a real chance of landing a top 10 talent. Let's use it wisely. BPA , and if it is one that also lines up with our greatest weakness all the better.

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stockholder's picture

April 19, 2018 at 07:56 pm

We won't get either. :( Is james the guy! The Next Troy Polamalu? Truthfully; This is like comparing Polamalu to Reed. Which fits best? Can we just for 1 year forget who fits best. I only care about the turn-overs. Lets start the comparison there. Who is best! Your doing what TT did. Picking guys to replace the FAs. It's a wonderful scenario. Great film and explanation. But truthfully how can you not give Jones Time. How can you not give Ha Ha Dix credit for being a pro bowler. If we miss out it's OK. MM said were good at safety. For the last 5 years MM said what we need. For the last 5 years TT did not give him what he asked for. MM came right out and said LBs, and a RB. TT didn't listen. Until guys got hurt and DC kept failing. Taking a safety really isn't the point here. It's the fact your coach publicly stated need, and was ignored. MM stated we need Pass Rushers and CBs. OK, What player will give MM what he wants. (Think Turn-overs @pick14! ) And go get Him.

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worztik's picture

April 20, 2018 at 10:06 am

HA HA IS ON THE PRO BOWLING TOUR AS WELL??? INTERESTING!!!

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

April 19, 2018 at 08:19 pm

Excellent, excellent article.

As for which I'd take? Sheesh, it's a win-win.

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Ryan Graham's picture

April 19, 2018 at 08:43 pm

Josh Jones would still see the field plenty Im sure as a more traditional weakside chase linebacker next to Martinez. That is primarily what he was playing and succeeding with until Burnett got hurt, and then he played the more traditional safety role that came into the box as Burnett did.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

April 19, 2018 at 10:13 pm

Agreed. Jones excels at linebacker, flying around and filling gaps.

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Packer_Fan's picture

April 19, 2018 at 09:19 pm

We don't need another safety/hybrid. We need cornerbacks.

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dobber's picture

April 20, 2018 at 07:48 am

They need guys who can cover. It could be CBs...could be FS-types. All we keep hearing is that Pettine likes versatility in his players. My guess is that there will be 3 new DBs on the roster when Mr. Irrelevant is chosen next week.

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worztik's picture

April 20, 2018 at 10:08 am

Right arm DOB!!!!

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RobinsonDavis's picture

April 21, 2018 at 08:38 pm

Agreed Dobber. Specifically they need another outside (or boundary) corner, as well as a slot coverage guy and a free safety. They can get two for one if either falls, but the outside cornerback is harder to come by in my opinion.

Although there is always a sleeper somewhere, most projections have the free safeties drying-up be the first 2 or 3 rounds.

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BradHTX's picture

April 20, 2018 at 10:25 am

So I'm assuming, then, you don't think a Charles Woodson type player would benefit this team. Because positions, not versatility.

And no: not saying Fitzpatrick is going to be the next CW. But a player who can cover, stop the run and blitz is going to benefit this D immensely. If Fitzpatrick is there at 14, take him and he becomes the starting nickle CB with King/Williams on the perimeter, and our D is immediately better. Draft a developmental CB later to eventually replace Williams.

I used to be high on James, but after reading this comparison, as great a player/leader as he is, I think there's too much crossover with HHCD - both at their best as a box SS. Would love to see them sign Boston as the coverage FS after the draft.

King - Fitzpatrick - Williams
HHCD
Boston

That's a secondary with potential to be great.

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MedicMike's picture

April 19, 2018 at 09:29 pm

I'm confused. Early in the story he says James is a good coverage safety. "He makes guys disappear". But then he spends time blasting his lack of coverage ability. It's gotta be one or the other

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AndyHerman's picture

April 19, 2018 at 10:55 pm

Mike,

I should have clarified this better. The person who states that he erases people in coverage isn’t me, that’s a tweet from someone else. However, in the clips he shows, I agree with his assessment. As I mentioned in the piece Jimbo Fisher himself stated it’s Derwin’s biggest area he needs to work on. He’s not a bad coverage safety by any means but he won’t consistently be able to matchup on receivers in the slot in the NFL. That’s ok but it’s something you’d like from a top 15 pick at safety. Minkah has that ability.

Hopefully this helps and thanks for reading!

-Andy-

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CJ Bauckham's picture

April 19, 2018 at 10:12 pm

I'd be thrilled with either of these two

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jww061356's picture

April 20, 2018 at 07:23 am

O.k, let me swerve off topic for a moment.......what if(in a parallel universe) 4 QB, Chubb, Nelson, McGlinchey, Edmunds, Fitzpatrick, James, Ridley, Vea, and either Landry, Davenport, or Ward all go first and Saquon Barkley slides to us? That would be game changing as well. Imagine Rogers paired with a RB that scares the hell out of people. The whole draft strategy might change in a blink!

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dobber's picture

April 20, 2018 at 07:45 am

There are several players on that list (aside from Barkley) that if they slide to the Packers, you run to the podium and say, "Thank you!"...or you immediately put the pick up for sale to the highest desperate bidder in case of a QB. Nelson, Edmunds, Barkley, James...any number of them make the Packers immediately better and potentially force a radical change in draft strategy.

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Finwiz's picture

April 20, 2018 at 11:05 am

It won't happen, but if Barkley is sitting there at 14, they won't take more than one minute to get to the podium to make that selection.

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mamasboy's picture

April 25, 2018 at 07:19 pm

If Aaron Jones learns to block a little better and can stay healthy, we will have our RB that scares the hell out of people.

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Handsback's picture

April 20, 2018 at 07:53 am

Good comparison.....I don't see either one being there at 14, but would be happy if Green Bay selected one at 14.

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kevgk's picture

April 20, 2018 at 07:56 am

If earl thomas is on the board (14th overall as well iirc), do you pass up on him for a development project combine hero like davenport? Derwin is the guy that transforms backends by letting you play DBs in a variety of formations and keep safties like Haha and Josh Jones in the box without sacrificing deep end coverage.
Pass rush will be fine with this kind of dline and blitz talent. Coverage OLBs are more valuable than DEs imo

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LambeauPlain's picture

April 20, 2018 at 09:21 am

Great article. Love these indepth comparision pieces. One of the best of any Packer site. Thumbs up Andrew!

Love both these safeties. James was the alpha male in the the locker room....Fitzpatrick was an accountable leader for the Bama D.

Fitz’s position coach was HC Saban who also coached DB’s! Bama players are so coveted because they are mostly NFL ready because they play NFL D and O.. And Fitz came in and started as a true freshman for Saban, which is very, very rare.

Picking James would be akin to drating a stud like DT Vea at #14 to join Daniels, Clark, Wilkerson, Lowery and Adams. James’ strengths pretty much mirror HaHa and Josh.

Fitz can play man to man, cover TE, WRs in the slot, AND can play boundry CB in a pinch and like James can blitz, tackle and track down the ball. You would never have James play boundry CB.

Knowing what I know so far about Pettine, he plays 3 safeties in Nickel more so than 3 CBs...and Fitz is more the “Swiss Army Knife” player Pettine covets in his players.

Fitz for the Pack if both fall...otherwise either one who falls...unless Edmunds or even Smith are there too!

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mrtundra's picture

April 20, 2018 at 09:30 am

A lot of the talk here is that we may not need a Safety since HHCD and JJ are here, now. I think we had better start looking for HHCD's replacement as I think he may leave and become a FA once his contract is up. The way he played last season has me scratching my head and thinking that he is playing to not get hurt and doesn't really want to be here. Minkah and Derwin are two of the best Safeties we will see over the next few years. I say GB should look at one of them, this year, to prepare for whatever HHCD and his agent have up their sleeves.

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BradHTX's picture

April 20, 2018 at 10:29 am

From his interviews I don't get the impression that's the case. Sounds to me more like he wasn't thrilled with being forced to play outside his area of strength, and did it for the best of the team, but is looking forward to a new scheme and being back in his best position.

Biggest problem I see is still the lack of a true coverage Free Safety. Hope they acquire one.

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kevgk's picture

April 20, 2018 at 02:24 pm

HHCD has been to two NFCCGs on his rookie deal and almost never has to worry about the offense. Why would he leave?

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Finwiz's picture

April 20, 2018 at 12:50 pm

I just watched the highlight reel on Fitzpatrick on Youtube, since the ones on here aren't playing for some reason.

He's got great speed and reaction to the ball, tackles well, is physical, and looks like a good blitzer. What I don't see is game changing plays on the ball, the Packers D needs so badly. He had only 1 INT in 2017, although he had 6 the year before. 24 passes defensed in his career at AL. Remember he plays with superior talent all around him, and AL dominates everybody. I'm not sure where he fits with us. We need more impact. Might not find it at #14.

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LambeauPlain's picture

April 20, 2018 at 01:55 pm

But remember, Fitzpatrick played in coverage as much as he played in the box or blitzing.

My take is the "lack of game changing plays" was due to him being in coverage and erasing the receiver he was on. He had more INTs as a sophomore because the opponent challenged him more so he had more INT opportunities and he capitalized.

His Junior year Bama opponents stayed away from him on passing downs because his coverage was so good.

That's a guy I want on my team as a S or slot CB...a DB that QBs avoid.

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