Minkah Fitzpatrick will likely be a first-round draft pick next week. But before the defensive back became household name, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit knew the prospect was going to be great.

Here is Herbstreit’s story on the first time he saw Fitzpatrick in action:

“His intelligence is what, to me, separates him. I’ll never forget. I came to a scrimmage, it was closed, an August scrimmage, and coach (Saban) let me in to watch. I was just sitting up there, and the families were in there. I went in there to watch, and this is when they were trying to figure out who was going to be the quarterback. Blake Sims had just left, and everyone wanted to know who was going to be that quarterback. I remember watching that scrimmage, it was the middle of August, they nobody knew who the quarterback was going to be — a lot of people assumed the freshman Blake Barnett would win it and he threw a couple of picks that day — but what stood out to me that day was this No. 29. And I don’t follow recruiting that closely to really know, but I happened to have a roster and I kept seeing that 29 and 15 (Ronnie Harrison) the same day. They were both true freshman defensive backs.

“And I kept watching 29, and because of some injuries he was working with the first unit. Then when he would come out, he would be standing next to Mel Tucker, the defensive coordinator*, and he was standing right next to him when he was out while the rest of the guys were getting a drink of water. He was standing right next to the defensive coordinator asking questions, pointing to things, trying to learn as much as he could.

“And I’ll never forget, after the scrimmage I walked down to the field, and as I was leaving I bumped into Kirby Smart, who was still the defensive coordinator, and I was like, ‘Man, these guys look good.’ What’s up with this 29 dude?’ His eyes got real big like, ‘special, different kind of guy.’

“This was a true freshman in his first scrimmage at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and from that moment on I just remembered that guy is going to be good. That guy is going to be a unique player. And then, of course, when (Scott) Cochran got ahold of him he got stronger and faster.

“He’s just one of those guys. His versatility and his intelligence make him unique. I personally think he will gravitate to the star position. I think he will be as good as there is in the league eventually. I think he is a perennial Pro Bowler type of guy. And I think that he will be a first-class professional as far as the way he carries himself. I’m looking forward to watching him develop at the next level.”

*Editor’s note: Mel Tucker, now the defensive coordinator at Georgia, was Alabama’s defensive backs coach at the time.

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