As a collective unit, Alabama has had the best defensive backfield in college football for at least the last three seasons — which coincides with the rise junior Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Crimson Tide’s do-everything DB who has lined up at safety, cornerback, and any other uniquely-named hybrid position that coach Nick Saban wants to use that particular week.
Fitzpatrick has been one of college football’s best defensive players during his time in Tuscaloosa, and earlier this month he earned two of the highest honors that a Division-1 defensive back can receive — short of the Heisman Trophy — when he won both the 2017 Chuck Bednarik Award and the Jim Thorpe Award.
The Bednarik Award is given to the nation’s defensive player of the year. Past winners include current NFL standouts like defensive lineman Aaron Donald and linebacker Manti Te’o. The last defensive back to win it was LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu in 2011. Fitzpatrick is the second straight Alabama player to win the award, following defensive lineman Jonathan Allen last year. Fitzpatrick beat out finalists Bradley Chubb, a senior defensive end at NC State; and Roquan Smith, a junior linebacker at Georgia.
The Thorpe Award is given to the nation’s best defensive back. Past winners include Deion Sanders, Charles Woodson, Eric Berry and Patrick Peterson. Fitzpatrick is the second Alabama DB to win it; the first was Antonio Langham in 1993.
The other finalists for the Thorpe Award were Iowa junior cornerback Josh Jackson (43 tackles, 7 interceptions, 1 forced fumble) and Texas junior safety DeShon Elliott (63 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery).
Fitzpatrick has made 62 tackles, six tackles for loss, one interception and one forced fumble this season. He is the leader of an Alabama defense that ranks No. 1 in the country in fewest points allowed (11.5 per game), second in fewest total yards allowed (257.8 per game) and lowest passing efficiency allowed (98.90), third in fewest rushing yards allowed (94.1 per game), tied for fifth in fewest first downs allowed (179), and sixth in fewest passing yards allowed (163.7 per game).
The Crimson Tide are 11-1 going into their national championship playoff semifinal against Clemson on Jan. 1, 2018.
College football’s award-winning defensive backs (D-1):
Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama — Chuck Bednarik Award, Jim Thorpe Award, Consensus All-America
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa — COnsensus All-America, Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, tied for national lead in interceptions (7)
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State — Consensus All-America
DeShon Elliott, S, Texas — Consensus All-America
Quin Blanding, S, Virginia — College Football News All-America
Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn — Sports Illustrated All-America
Jalen Davis, CB, Utah State — Walter Camp Foundation All-America
Derwin James, S, Florida State — Football Writers Association All-America, USA Today All-America
Julian Love, CB, Notre Dame — College Football News All-America
T.J. Carter, CB, Memphis — American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year
Brenton Nelson, S, Virginia — ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year
Jeremy Reaves, CB, South Alabama — Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year
Ron LaForce, S, New Mexico State — Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year
Marcus Jones, CB/KR, Troy — Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year
Lukas Denis, CB, Boston College
Jalen Young, S, Florida Atlantic — Tied for national lead in interceptions (7)
Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconson — National leader in pass breakups (20)
Ben DeLuca, CB, Charlotte — Tied for national lead in forced fumbles (5)
Brody Hoying, DB, Eastern Michigan
William Harris, S, Boston College — Tied for national lead in fumble recoveries (4)