TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — An emotional Minkah Fitzpatrick gathered himself at the podium before making one last announcement as an Alabama player. The Alabama defensive back is one of five juniors who declared for this year’s NFL Draft, joining fellow defensive back Ronnie Harrison, defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne, running back Bo Scarbrough and wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
“The best three years of my life have been at the University of Alabama,” Fitzpatrick said. “Me and my family have been through a whole lot of highs and lows. We rebuilt our homes, rebuilt our lives and centered our lives around Christ. We've accomplished a lot together, a lot of things that not many people can say they've accomplished as a family and as a unit. We've won two national championships together and I've attended one of the greatest universities in the world… After all that, I think it's best for me and my family for me to pursue my career in the NFL.
“It was an honor and a blessing to be part of this university. I'm forever grateful. Y'all gave me a whole lot of love, a lot of appreciation, a lot of blessings. I just want to say thank you, God bless and Roll Tide.”
Fitzpatrick, Harrison and Scarbrough all announced their decisions Thursday afternoon inside of the Mal Moore Athletic Complex, while Alabama head coach Nick Saban announced that Payne and Ridley would also be leaving early.
“We've got some young men here today that have done a fantastic job for the University of Alabama. Not only in what they've been able to accomplish on the field but the way they've represented the university, the football program, off the field as well,” Saban said. “These guys have had outstanding careers here. Won two SEC championships and two national championships and all these guys have made tremendous contributions to the team, the team's success and the internal sort of leadership that goes with having championship-type teams.”
Fitzpatrick is projected to be the first Alabama player taken in this year’s draft and is a top-5 pick in many mock drafts. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound defensive back won the Chuck Bednarik Award and Jim Thorpe Award and was a consensus All-American. He finished the season fourth on the team with 60 tackles while finishing third with eight tackles for a loss. He also tallied eight pass breakups and an interception to go with a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
Harrison said he was told he was projected to be selected in either the first or second round. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound safety had a 20-minute conversation with Saban on Wednesday regarding his future. While he admits he briefly thought about the possibility of returning, the decision to pursue his NFL career was too good to pass up. Harrison was tied with linebacker Rashaan Evans for the team lead in tackles with 74 and also tallied three interception and four pass breakups this season.
“This was my dream growing up. I definitely thought about this before,” Harrison said. “I never thought it would come through Alabama like this, but I'm just happy for the opportunity and I'm blessed."
Scarbrough’s decision to leave came as the biggest surprise of the five. The Northport, Ala., native had a dip in production this season finishing with 596 yards and eight touchdowns on 124 carries. That came after a breakout sophomore season last year where he tallied 812 yards and 11 touchdowns, including 364 yards and six scores in Alabamas’s three postseason games. Scarbrough elected not to address his draft grade Wednesday. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound running back is not projected to be selected in the first two rounds of the draft.
While stating that he didn’t accomplish what he wanted to this season, Scarbrough said he still feels like he put himself in a good position to be selected high in the draft. On top of his physical attributes, he said he looks to bring leadership to whatever team drafts him at the next level.
“My personality and the type of person that I am, the type of player that I am. Outgoing and a leader on and off the field.”
Scarbrough’s decision to leave comes as fellow junior Damien Harris elected to return for his senior season. Harris led Alabama in rushing this season with 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also ranked No. 12 in the nation averaging 9.64 yards per carry. Scarbrough said he did not talk with Harris when making his decision to enter the draft.
While Ridley wasn’t in attendance Thursday, he posted a statement on Twitter Wednesday announcing his decision and thanking Alabama for his time there. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound receiver was by far Alabama’s biggest receiving threat with 63 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns, including a game-tying score against Georgia in the fourth quarter. With 18 career touchdowns, Ridley is tied with Dennis Homan (1965-67) for second place all-time at Alabama. The junior receiver has also recorded a reception in all 44 games of his career. He is projected to be a first-round pick on several draft boards.
Payne has also found his name in the first round of several mock drafts. The 6-foot-2, 308-pound defensive tackle earned defensive MVP honors in both the Sugar Bowl and the national championship game, combining for eight tackles and an interception between the two games.
With the five departures this year Alabama has now had 30 underclassmen declare for the NFL Draft in Nick Saban's 11 years with the program. Draft eligible players have until Jan. 15 to declare. They have until Jan. 19 to withdraw their names in order to be eligible to return to school.