Miami Dolphins select Minkah Fitzpatrick with No. 11 pick in NFL draft

The Miami Dolphins selected Alabama free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick with the 11th pick of the NFL draft Thursday, seemingly checking all the boxes with their first-round pick.

Well, they didn’t check the box that said “quarterback.”

But the Dolphins, who had been rumored to be eyeing one of the top-4 quarterbacks — Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and UCLA’s Josh Rosen — didn’t seem fazed that all four went in the top 10, just out of reach for Miami.

“Really, the way it all played out, we didn’t think any of the quarterbacks would make it to us,” general manager Chris Grier said. “For us, we talked to a couple of teams about maybe moving up or down but nothing real serious. For us, at the end of the day, if one of those guys was there, we would have talked about it; but we just didn’t think anybody would be there.”

Fitzpatrick, a first-team All-American who had nine career interceptions and 171 tackles, figures to start at free safety alongside Pro Bowl strong safety Reshad Jones. It’s unclear what that means for veteran safety T.J. McDonald, who started alongside Jones last season in a secondary that featured two strong safeties.

Coach Adam Gase said during the NFL Annual Meetings in March that the safety situation didn’t work out as well as they had hoped between Jones and McDonald. Fitzpatrick would fill the need for someone who can serve as the last line of defense as well as cover tight ends and running backs, a major concern for the defense last season.

Grier, however, warned not to pencil Fitzpatrick into any position.

“He has a little different skill set than the other two guys,” Grier said of Jones and McDonald. “From there, they’re going to battle it out this spring. It’s all about competition and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Fitzpatrick (6-0, 204 pounds), who left the national champion Crimson Tide after his junior season, is a versatile defender who played both free safety and slot cornerback for Alabama coach Nick Saban, the former Dolphins coach.

Fitzpatrick had six interceptions in 2016 as a sophomore, and one interception last season as a junior. He attributes the drop in production to fewer teams passing his direction. What really appealed to Miami is Fitzpatrick’s play-making ability. He had four touchdowns in his career.

“At the end of the day, this guy is a football player,” Grier said. “He creates turnovers. He’s had a bunch of touchdown returns as well on those.

“This was a player we just felt, at that point, that we could not pass up.”

The last of the top-4 quarterbacks was picked before Miami made its selection.

Arizona traded with Oakland, giving the Raiders a third- and fifth-round pick this year in addition to swapping first-round picks, to get the 10th pick. The Cardinals selected Rosen, making him the fourth quarterback drafted.

Another of Miami’s top-projected targets, Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, was selected No. 8 by Chicago. That meant the Dolphins missed on the player many thought was the top middle linebacker in the draft.

Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, another rumored target for Miami, went No. 12 to Tampa Bay, and Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, also rumored to be a Dolphins target, went No. 16 to Buffalo.

The hurdles started early for Miami.

Part of what could have been the master plan for the Dolphins dissolved with the No. 1 pick when Cleveland selected Mayfield, a player Gase liked.

And as the draft continued the quarterbacks kept going off the draft board. The New York Jets selected Darnold at No. 3.

Then Buffalo traded with Tampa Bay — the Bills gave the Buccaneers two second-round picks (Nos. 53 and 56) this year, Tampa Bay gave Buffalo a seventh-round pick this year and the teams exchanged first-round picks this year — to acquire the No. 7 pick and they selected Allen.

That meant two AFC East teams, the Jets and Bills, selected quarterbacks in the first seven picks.

Undeterred, Grier, who said the Dolphins had “a couple of calls with teams but it didn’t get very serious [about moving up in the draft],” reiterated quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be Miami’s starter in 2018.

“Again, Ryan is our guy,” Grier said. “We believe in Ryan. He’s going to be our starter.”

The Dolphins enter Friday’s second-day of the draft with one pick in the second round (10th in the round, No. 42 overall) and one pick in the third round (ninth in the round, No. 73 overall). On Saturday, the Dolphins have five picks — fourth round (23rd pick of round): No. 123 overall; fourth round (31st pick of round): No. 131 overall; sixth round (35th pick of round): No. 209 overall; seventh round (ninth pick of round): No. 227 overall; seventh round: (11th pick of round): No. 229 overall.

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chperkins@sunsentinel.com; On Twitter @Chrisperk

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