There is only one returning defensive player in college football who was a consensus All-American last season. That would be Alabama junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
NFLDraftScout.com rates him as the No. 9 prospect for the 2018 NFL Draft, and if there needed to be another reason why he is so highly coveted, there is this:
He said Wednesday at SEC Media Days that he ran a 4.39 40 in the spring in front of scouts at Alabama's Pro Day.
Scouts also love his versatility. He played the "star" nickel-back position as a freshman, began last season at cornerback, and then took over at safety for the final seven games when Eddie Jackson suffered a broken leg.
As for this season, he is likely to stick at safety -- saying he has no preference -- but his multiple skills will allow coach Nick Saban to experiment with combinations as needed.
"I have been playing a little corner, a little bit of star, a little bit of safety," Fitzpatrick said Wednesday. "We've been trying to feel it out, see what we can do, see what's the best fit."
Fitzpatrick (6-1, 202) intercepted six passes last season on a big-play Alabama defense, returning two for touchdowns. He has four career interception returns for scores.
Fitzpatrick brushed off talk about leaving for the NFL after this season -- "I'm only concerned about a national championship," he said Wednesday -- but he is in line to be Alabama's sixth defensive back to be a first-round pick since 2010.
NFLDraftScout.com ranks him as the second-best defensive back in the country behind Florida State safety Derwin James (No. 4), who is coming off an injury-shortened season.
Regarding Fitzpatrick, NFLDraftScout.com writes:
"He is a fluid, coordinated athlete with impressive top-end speed shown not only as a starting cornerback and safety the past two seasons but as a very effective gunner on special teams. Alert and physical, Fitzpatrick may project better to safety but for some as he is a bit high in his back pedal. However, he transitions and accelerates smoothly and possesses the long arms so popular for cornerbacks in today's game."
Fitzpatrick and James will be on the same field in a huge opening-weekend matchup in Atlanta's new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sept. 2.
"It's going to be a whole lot of fun to play in and a game to remember," Fitzpatrick said.