SEC INSIDER

Bama’s Fitzpatrick a spitting image of Rod Woodson

Matt Lowe

July 12, 2017 at 1:26 pm.

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) runs the ball for a touchdown during the first quarter of the SEC Championship college football game against the Florida Gators at Georgia Dome. Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) runs the ball for a touchdown during the first quarter of the SEC Championship college football game against the Florida Gators at Georgia Dome. Photo Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

HOOVER — It may be crazy to compare a current college player to a Collegiate and NFL Hall of Famer, but here goes.

When I watch Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick play, I can’t help but think of Rod Woodson during his heyday.

Woodson was a two-time All-American and three-time All-Big Ten performer at Purdue from 1983-86. He primarily played cornerback for the Boilermakers, but he exhibited rare versatility by also seeing time at running back and receiver in addition to handling kickoff and punt return duties.

Woodson was a clamp-down pass defender and a premier ball-hawk in the NFL for nearly two decades while playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders from 1987-2003.

Any time he picked off a pass (and he did that a lot; try 71 times, third-most in NFL history), he was a threat to score due to his tremendous speed and natural run-after-the-catch ability. In fact, Woodson holds the league record for interceptions returned for touchdowns with 12.

Now look, I understand it may be a little premature to compare a junior in college to one of the NFL’s all-time great players, but Fitzpatrick is a heck of a player. And he’s almost a spitting image of Woodson in a number of ways.

Woodson was 6-foot, 209 pounds during his peak playing days. Fitzpatrick is listed at 6-1, 202.

Woodson played corner and safety. Fitzpatrick can play corner or safety.

Woodson was a ball-hawk who doubled as an extremely dangerous runner with the ball in his hands. Fitzpatrick, who was an All-SEC first-team selection, an All-American and finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award (given annually to the nation’s top defensive back) as a true sophomore, led Alabama in interceptions a year ago (six) and already holds the Crimson Tide’s record for pick-sixes in a career (four), which says it all about his game-breaking ability with the ball in his hands.

“Minkah pretty much can do everything in my eyes,” senior cornerback Anthony Averett said this spring. “Wherever you want to put him, he can play.”

Woodson was a mainstay in run support.  Fitzpatrick doesn’t mind coming up to strike an opposing ball carrier either. He finished with 66 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble a year ago after tallying 45 tackles and two interceptions (both returned for TDs) as a starter at the “star” — or nickel back position — as a true freshman.

So, the comparisons to Woodson are there. And they are real. Put the highlight tape on and see for yourself. And with the losses of stars such as Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson on Alabama’s defense, look for Fitzpatrick to become more of a vocal leader after letting his play do the talking in his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa.

“Last year I had a leadership role, but I wasn’t the leader of the defense,” Fitzpatrick said at SEC Media Days. “This year I feel like I have to be more vocal and step into that role.”

Alabama, which is ranked No. 1 in Lindy’s Top 25, takes on fourth-ranked Florida State in the brand new Mercedes Benz Stadium on Sept. 2. Fitzpatrick and his teammates are looking forward to the matchup with one of the premier programs in college football.

“Florida State is probably one of the best teams and one of the best legacies in college football,” Fitzpatrick said. “We don’t get to see them a lot, so when we play each other, it’s going to be a great game. I think it will be a lot of fun to play.”

Just how fun it will be for the Florida State offense is left to be determined. But the Seminoles better account for Fitzpatrick at all times. If they don’t, No. 29 may add to his interception, and scoring, total in what is expected to be one of college football’s biggest games of the year.