FAB 2. Bucs Should Pass On Alabama’s Fitzpatrick

Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is the latest flavor of the month to be mocked to Tampa Bay in the latest round of some high-profile mock drafts this week. The Bucs draft Fitzpatrick in mock drafts by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.

I already objected to Miller choosing Fitzpatrick over Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, who was the Bucs’ first-round pick in PewterReport.com’s initial 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft. I happen to think Nelson is a much better player Fitzpatrick is. At least Zierlein had Nelson off the board at No. 5 to Denver. North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb was selected by Indianapolis at No. 3 in both of those mock drafts.

Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson - Photo by: Getty Images
Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson – Photo by: Getty Images

Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, who was Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in PewterReport.com’s second 2018 Bucs’ 7-Round Mock Draft, was selected 13th overall by Washington. I’d take Nelson or Vea over Fitzpatrick every time if the mauling guard or the mammoth defensive tackle were still on the board at No. 7.

Here’s why.

Despite the fact that some are projecting Fitzpatrick as an outside cornerback – even our own Trevor Sikkema thinks the All-American can do it – at the next level, he’s actually a safety. The vast majority of Fitzpatrick’s snaps at Alabama came at safety or the STAR position, which is a quasi-slot-cornerback-linebacker role, for a reason. That’s where Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban felt he was best suited to play.

I’m not saying that Fitzpatrick isn’t worth a top 10 pick. It’s just that he’s a safety – a free safety, really – and that’s how most of the teams in the league view him based on the intel we’ve gathered from our sources at the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl. So if a team needs a safety, Fitzpatrick or Florida State’s Derwin James are the guys to target.

The Bucs already have a free safety after spending last year’s second-round pick on Justin Evans, whom the team is thrilled with after he recorded three interceptions during his rookie season.

It is way too risky for this franchise to project Fitzpatrick as an outside cornerback with the seventh overall pick when the film isn’t there to support such a move. I know Sikkema found some instances where Fitzpatrick played outside for a few plays, but those snaps he detailed in his Cover 3 column were the exception and not the norm.

Tampa Bay needs a surefire home-run player that can come in and make an impact right away as a Day 1 starter. How much developmental time would Fitzpatrick need to become a true shutdown corner – supposing he could ever reach that level in the NFL?

Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick - Photo by: Getty Images
Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick – Photo by: Getty Images

If Fitzpatrick had three years of exquisite game film as a cornerback and was the next coming of Patrick Peterson he’d be a no-brainer pick for the Bucs, who do need help at the position. But he doesn’t. He mostly played between the seams in the middle of the field, not the perimeter, which is where Tampa Bay needs the most help.

Truthfully, I have the same “meh” feeling about Fitzpatrick that I did about cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, whom the Bucs selected with the 11th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. I think Fitzpatrick will be a good player in the league, but I’m not ready to suggest he’s going to be a Pro Bowler.

Meanwhile, Bucs are still trying to salvage Hargreaves, who I would imagine gets his third shot to be a starter on the outside before another possible last-ditch move inside to slot corner if he continues to flounder on the perimeter. So with Evans at free safety and Hargreaves possibly inside at slot corner, the Bucs already have two players that play the positions that Fitzpatrick proved he could play the best.

I think Evans is a much better fit at free safety than strong safety. So moving him into the box to make room for Fitzpatrick isn’t necessarily the right call. And I don’t think Fitzpatrick is best suited to play strong safety for a living due to his tackling style, which is usually going for ballcarriers’ ankles, as Sikkema pointed out in this Cover 3.

If Tampa Bay didn’t have more pressing needs at the line of scrimmage I would be more than lukewarm about Fitzpatrick. But the reality is that the Bucs got killed in the trenches last year. Tampa Bay couldn’t run the ball on offense, didn’t do a great job stopping the run on defense, and couldn’t rush the passer worth a lick.

Most successful teams build their defenses from front (line) to back (secondary). Bucs general manager Jason Licht has spent two picks on defensive linemen in the last four drafts. That has to change in 2018 where the defensive line needs to be overhauled this offseason.

The reason why the Bucs had the worst pass defense last year wasn’t just due to a lack of talent in the secondary. It was due to a lack of talent on the defensive line. When a quarterback is pressured, more incompletions and interceptions occur. When a quarterback has all day to throw, more completions and touchdowns occur.

Alabama S Minkah Fitzpatrick - Photo by: Getty Images
Alabama S Minkah Fitzpatrick – Photo by: Getty Images

I don’t care how star-studded a secondary is, it’s tough to cover a receiver or a tight end for four or five seconds when they know where they are going with their routes and the defensive backs don’t. Now force a quarterback to get rid of the ball in three seconds or less when he necessarily doesn’t want to and that automatically helps a team’s secondary.

Of course, a great secondary can also cause a coverage sack by tightly covering all of the receivers from time to time, but more often than not, pressuring a quarterback upfront is the best way to disrupt a passing game. That’s why Licht needs to put as many premium draft resources into defensive linemen – an area that has been neglected in the draft. Drafting Fitzpatrick at No. 7 doesn’t help that cause.

Besides, the Bucs won’t wait for the NFL Draft to find a starting-caliber cornerback to help the league’s worst pass defense, and if they do that, they will surely pass on Fitzpatrick. Licht will try to re-sign Brent Grimes and is expected to sign another cornerback or two in free agency for competition, in addition to a defensive lineman or two. But while there aren’t many quality pass rushers available this year, the free agent class is rather deep at cornerback.

From what I know, and I think Tampa Bay views Fitzpatrick as more of a safety than a cornerback and the value just isn’t there at No. 7 to draft him for that reason. I just can’t see the Bucs spending the seventh overall pick on the Alabama star for that reason, and I think Licht is smart enough not to spend a top 10 pick on a player who didn’t play much outside cornerback in college simply based on a projection rather than a mountain of evidence from game film, which Fitzpatrick simply doesn’t have on the perimeter.

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Scott Reynolds is in his 24th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his son's Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
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CrackerBall
2 years ago

The tough thing about being a vocal leader is having the gravitas to influence – otherwise Riley Bullough would be the leader of this team. McCoy will never be the vocal guy we want him to be. In the old days, we had Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch – all vocal with the peaches to back it up. People respected them because they could bring it as well as preach it.

Ah… the good old days.

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FLBoy84
2 years ago

Definitely hit the nail on the head with GMC section Scott. He came out with another “I’m not good enough, thanks for the push, I hear you” tweet regarding not getting a single All-Pro vote last month. Believe Sapp would’ve been more like “F%$k you” instead of “thanks for the push”, which I believe more players respond too. That whole “do your job” and “us vs the world” mentality resonates more with players imo than the “come on guys, we can do better”. LIke Kwon, but just don’t see him as being that guy yet that can lead the entire… Read more »

Cody
2 years ago
Reply to  FLBoy84

Who gets the better end of the deal if the Bucs trade their 7th pick for both of the Bills first rounders this year? I know they need a QB and we need to fill some holes so I feel like this may be a good trade. What do you think?

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FLBoy84
2 years ago
Reply to  Cody

Think you’re spot-on Cody. Would be down for that, as the value is comparable, though it would obviously depend on who’s there at #7 right? Lot’s of mocks out there have the top QB’s gone by #7 so, if the run on QB’s start early, Buffalo is probably calling Cleveland at #4. If we did make the move, good chance a G/C like Wynn or Price and a DL like Bryan or Hurst are there as well.

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Cody
2 years ago
Reply to  FLBoy84

Yeah if Chubb somehow falls to us then I’d stay and take him at 7. But if we get those two first rounders from Buffalo then we could definitely get Hurst and maybe Josh Jackson as well or Harold Landry. I’d also be totally okay with taking Davenport at that point as well.

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TBChucky
2 years ago

I agree on GMC and Fitzpatrick. He’s my least favorite blue chipper, for the Bucs anyway. Not saying that he’s not a good player. I think they’d probably prefer a true CB like Jackson from Iowa, or the kid from Ohio State. I’m hoping you’re right, and they fill that need through free agency. Focus on the lines and RB in the draft please.

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BucFanInNC
2 years ago

Everyone clamoring for Baker & Ayers to be cut but what about Gholston? Dude was trash too.

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athans5
2 years ago

I don’t understand why everyone is so hot on Fitzpatrick. I personally think that Derwin James is the better player of the two. I’m actually a Florida fan so I’m not a homer, I just think that guy has the abilities to be special. In my opinion, him, Nelson, and Barkley should be our top prospects at 7. Why does no one talk about Derwin? After the combine I guarantee he will be a top 10 pick in mock drafts. If you don’t believe me please refer to this http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000844755/article/derwin-james-scouts-see-future-nfl-star-in-freakish-fsu-safety Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating00 No votes yet. Please… Read more »

macabee
2 years ago
Reply to  athans5

Thought of you my friend when I saw this. Enjoy!

https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/news/2018-nfl-mock-draft-both-new-york-teams-get-qbs-49ers-give-jimmy-g-a-running-mate/

Oh, btw, PFF has the same idea. Good luck on your picks. Go Bucs!

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surferdudes
2 years ago

McCoy isn’t going to change as a leader, and he’ll never give up the C on his chest because he’s a media whore. It’s obvious his goal now is to make more pro bowls, and go on to a career at ESPN, or NFL Net when he retires. Eight years going on nine we hear the same song, and dance from McCoy, time to realize it’s all talk. If the Bucs don’t move on from Gerry then they better draft Vita Vea instead of a safety. Put a top ten D line talent next to McCoy to finally shut up… Read more »

Tampa 2.2
2 years ago

I totally disagrees with your FAB 2. The great number of NFL executive of the year award having, HOFer William Patrick “Bill” Polian Jr. once said, “If you are drafting in the top 10 you must select a player who scores TDs, protect the passer blind side, sack QBs, take the ball away or score TDs.” In other words the only positions you should draft in the top ten are LT, QB, DE, RB, or WR. Offensive Guard Quenton Nelson or Defensive Tackle Vita Vea doesn’t fits Bill criteria to be selected with the Bucs 7th pick. Let’s take a… Read more »

JustaBuc
2 years ago

The amount of criticism McCoy receives for absolutely nothing is frankly f*cking pathetic. You’d think the guy played every position on the football team. Dude’s done nothing but ball at an elite level for us, half the time injured and with no help, and the fanbase thinks he’s the problem. Lmao. People write about leadership like its some possession that McCoy can just dig out of his locker and hand to some louder rah-rah man since everybody should aspire to the masculine fantasy that being a hard ass is the de-facto best and only valid leadership style. Christ, let’s go… Read more »

Bucsfan1983
2 years ago

Seriously Scott?

The Bucs should absolutely not pass on Fitz, if the opportunity is there. There are 4 players they should be looking at #7, Chubb, Fitz, Barkley and James. If all four are gone, then look to trade down for Nelson, Davenport, Vea or whoever.

I don’t think all 4 will be gone by 7, at least 3-4 QBs will be going before 7.

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stlbucsfan
2 years ago

It makes no sense that we are still having articles written about GMC not being a vocal leader. Tony Dungy didn’t lead the same as Gruden but they both have the same amount of rings. Writing articles that even suggest that GMC is the problem is asinine. The problem with this defense is the guy who surrounded GMC with “top notch” talent like William Gholston, Robert Ayers, Chris Baker, Michael Johnson, Stevie T, George Johnson and I could go on but you get the point. GMC doesn’t need to be Warren Sapp to win in the NFL, plenty of players… Read more »

RootsCrew
RootsCrew
2 years ago

Unfortunately, the Fab 3 likely won’t happen. Koetter is a dinosaur in terms of how he views football. Despite the overwhelming evidence that his defense couldn’t hold leads/or consistently hold the other teams offense, he still punted or called plays “not to lose” instead of going for the win. That’s just who he is. He thinks it’s still 2008. The lack of using the QB sneak has driven me mad since 2015. He’d rather go 5 wide on 3rd and 1 than use the sneak with Jameis. In regards to the Fab 2, I’m not against drafting Minkah dependent on… Read more »

RootsCrew
RootsCrew
2 years ago
Reply to  RootsCrew

And you really can’t compare teams when evaluating if McCoy elevated his teammates play. The talent is night and day different. 1997: Sapp’s 3rd year Hardy, Brooks (HOF), Lynch (HOF worthy), Donnie, Culpepper, Upshaw 1998: Sapp’s 4th year Hardy, Brooks, Lynch, Donnie, Culpepper, Upshaw, Ronde (HOF worthy) 2000: Sapp’s 6th year Booger, Brooks, Lynch, Donnie, Ronde, Quarles, Robinson Contrast the supporting casts 2012: GMC’s 3rd year LVD, 37 year old Ronde, Barron, Bennett, Foster, Ahmad, Miller 2013: GMC’s 4th year LVD, Barron, Foster, Dashon, Clayborn, Revis, Banks, Akeem 2015: GMC’s 6th year LVD, Kwon, Conte, Gholston, Jacquies, Lansanah, McDougald, Moore,… Read more »

Ken - Kfromfla
2 years ago
Reply to  RootsCrew

Great players make plays when it counts. Great defensive players create stops on critical drives. Great player make plays. Ask Brandon Graham about his strip-sack, or Julian Edelman about his ridiculous diving catch in SB – 51, or Von Miller about his sack on Cam, or Malcom Butler about his Int. Great players make plays in when it counts. Now, name that play for McCoy in 8 seasons? Maybe the hurry on Ryan in 2016? I can’t think of another out of 109 games and a $100 Million dollar investment. Please name another. I’ll wait. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit… Read more »

Ken - Kfromfla
2 years ago

I hate the subject of leadership on the defensive side of the ball because when I try to explain my issue with it, I get accused of McCoy bashing, when that is never what I set out to do. Gerald McCoy is one of the best DT in the game, but his position as team leader dramatically reduces his possible contributions. Let me explain. Football is a man’s man sport, alpha male trying to take the heads off of other alpha males, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Yet, the bucs are soft on defense, there is just… Read more »

owlykat
2 years ago

Enjoyed your entire article. McCoy needs to up his leadership by example and pass the Captainship to the caller of the Defense who has the fire to do it. Licht’s failure to build from the trenches forward is the real problem! Koetter used to call QB sneaks when Jameis had the weight to pull it off but he should have never let Jameis lose his weight which led to his injury and increased fumbles. Koetter’s pampered practices does not prepare his teams to be strong enough to dominate. He needs to visit the Gator practices going on right now and… Read more »

martinii
2 years ago

Fab 1 regarding Mc Coy and his leadership strategy absolutely makes me sick to my stomach. This site is beginning to remind me of another Hater site which I have all but stopped visiting. For all you experts on leadership the most basic form is by example. No he doesn’t have the fire and brimstone, no he’s not the animated spokes person or maybe he doesn’t have the Warren Sapp bravado, but every time he steps on that field opposing coaches and players are game planning for him with double teams. So go ahead trade hime, cut him, ridicule him… Read more »

SaskBucs
2 years ago

Fab 1- Agree. I never bash McCoy’s play but I have been in a locker room my whole life and if you can’t confront teammates or even the coach in a proper manner, you aren’t leading properly. Fab 2- Admittedly, I don’t understand the talents and projections of these college ballers as I don’t usually watch but I tend to agree with what you said and I am firmly in the camp of drafting for the trenches. Fab 3- Agree, but only if Koetter can stop telegraphing plays and targets. Get creative, sneak Winston, fake an end around to DJax… Read more »

Garv
2 years ago

It never ceases to amaze me how much crap Gerald McCoy takes from some fans. And of course the media inflames it for even more attention. He is himself, will always BE himself and that is an NFL Pro Bowl DT year after year after year. I do agree that Kwon and Jameis are the leaders now and that’s fine. I love their passion and drive to win the damn games. In fact their drive to win the damn games is, ironically, the very thing some fans were bitching about when they led the team to the final win against… Read more »

Alldaway 2.0
2 years ago

Fix the lines.

Passing superior safety talent in the 2018 draft isn’t a good idea but the Bucs don’t have that luxury with their o-line/d-line.

Fix the lines.

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scubog
2 years ago

I’m a little late reading the Fab 5 this week, but I’ll offer my take on the on going GMC debate. There are lots of ways to lead and certainly being one of the players to demonstrate how it’s done is one of them. It sure would be difficult to get folks to follow your lead when you don’t do things properly or take the easy way out yourself. Gerald and the great Lee Roy Selmon are great examples. But unlike #63, #93 rarely takes over a game or comes through when needed most like Selmon, Sapp, Brooks or my… Read more »

plopes808
2 years ago

GMC’s leadership style is just fine. We already have Kwon bringing the fire on defense so having 2 of the same leadership style is a waste. Not to mention the fact that the “in your face” style is obviously not GMC at all. I hope we don’t reach on Fitzpatrick when clearly our most sure-fire hit would be to draft Nelson and put him next to Ali. Those 2 would bust gaping holes through D-lines and allow our backs to gallop through them. If we can land Michel in the 2nd round, our 2 picks would compliment each other very… Read more »

jp414
2 years ago

Spend a first round, seventh overall pick on a G? Who does that? The last time anybody spent a pick that high on an OG was AZ taking Jonathan Cooper at pick #7 in 2013. How’d that work out for them? SF drafted Mike Iupati at pick 17 in 2010. Other than those two, no guards have been taken any higher than 23rd by any team for the last 15 years! This team needs a pass rush. And, CB help. And, a RB. And, maybe a LT & C. All of those – before OG. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit… Read more »

Dan.B
2 years ago

Yes i totally agree that we should pass on Fitzpatrick with the 7th pick and go for either Vea or Nelson. both are mammoths that move extremely well and will be contributing players for a long time. I also think we should double up on big men with our 2nd round pick of the draft as well. if we take nelson, maybe the Florida DT taven bryan will be there in the early 2nd, or if we take Vea at 7, why not go for a solid OLinemen with our 2nd pick. the game is won and lost in the… Read more »