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The Nick Fitzgerald Profile

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Notably, much of Fitzgerald's profile can be prominently quantified, ranked and tallied. What defines this player, however, is what makes him successful.

It all comes down to the fact that I know that I went out there every single day and gave my absolute all for my team, for my coaches, my family, the fans.
~Nick Fitzgerald

Nick Fitzgerald's Mississippi State career was one for the record books. He finished with 6,207 passing yards and 55 passing touchdowns and 3,607 rushing yards, the most in the SEC all-time, with 46 more rushing scores. Simply put, the numbers are overwhelming. The marks are too many to list. For point reference, Fitzgerald threw for more touchdowns than the likes of Chad Kelly, JaMarcus Russell and Matthew Stafford and ran for more scores than everyone in league history except Benny Snell, Tim Tebow and Herschel Walker.

In Indianapolis, Fitzgerald's NFL Combine totals also impressed. A notable athletic skill set was on clear display. He registered in at 6'5'', 226 pounds and ran the fourth-fastest forty yard dash time, at 4.64, of any quarterback in attendance. Fitzgerald stood the same height and measured over a full tenth-of-a-second faster than 2018 first round pick Josh Allen of Wyoming, who led all NFL quarterbacks with eight rushing touchdowns and ranked second with 631 rushing yards yards this past year. 

Notably, much of Fitzgerald's profile can be prominently quantified, ranked and tallied. What defines this player, however, is what makes him successful. Fitzgerald's best traits may be his immeasurables

"What the NFL is going to get is a guy who is an extremely good leader, has passion for the game, is, honestly in my opinion, one of toughest guys to play football and shows on tape week-in and week-out," he nodded. "You have a guy who is going to make the big plays when they need to be made. I'm going to be a guy who is going to be a positive influence on the locker room and make sure that the culture is staying positive and moving in the right direction."        

Fitzgerald started three years in the nation's meat-grinder of a conference, led Mississippi State to three consecutive bowl games and emerged as a weekly highlight as one of college football's bigger names. From following in the footsteps of current Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to competing against the likes of Alabama, Auburn and LSU, Fitzgerald hasn't taken any shortcuts to where he currently is. This place at the podium came after a sprint up the proverbial stairs.   

Formerly a standout wide receiver before emerging as a superstar quarterback at Richmond Hill High School just south of Savannah, Georgia, Fitzgerald has long had all of the physical tools. He, as a dynamic athlete, can do it all on the football field, a notion past production most definitely shows. Mindset makes the man, however, and Fitzgerald is no different. Even record-setting stats don't tell his full story.

Before Fitzgerald scored 101 college touchdowns, all he needed was the right opportunity to do so.

"I knew that I had a scholarship to go play in the SEC. I knew that I believed in my abilities and what I could grow to be," Fitzgerald shared. "Early years through college, just tried to work hard and learn everything I possibly could. Never really knew if I was going to make it this far and have this sort of success, but I always believed in myself and my abilities. Just knew I had to have a chance to prove that. I got my opportunity and I ran with it. It's been a great time, I've loved my career and I'm really excited to see where it goes from here."

Beyond just his size, strength and speed, Fitzgerald has won with his conviction. He, ultimately stepping onto the big stage of a starring role in the SEC, bet on himself well before others ever knew who he was. It's an old football adage that you should prepare for being the starter even if you aren't; Fitzgerald's outlook, more so than his talent, even, has been his foundation for years. That approach hasn't just come with a place in the spotlight for Fitzgerald, it has come with a place in history. 

Fitzgerald will take his next test with a proven tried-and-true mentality. Ahead of the NFL Draft, Fitzgerald trusts that his game will transition well. It's not as much a hope as it is a hallmark. Fitzgerald, fresh off a career for the ages and a showcase combine performance, is ready for what awaits. Whether transitioning from the triple option in high school or settling in atop the depth chart at Mississippi State, Fitzgerald has always found a way. Proving himself at the game's highest level awaits as the next chapter.

Given recent developments, the timing may be right for Fitzgerald's transition. Football has always been a copy-cat league and, at this point, successful college offenses seem to be the model. With coaching and personnel alike, more innovation is now being intertwined with Sunday traditions. The projection for prospects like Fitzgerald, multi-faceted and, thus, multi-functional, is on the rise. His versatility comes with value.

Mobility, for quarterbacks, has almost become a modern-day prerequisite. Starting with Aaron Rodgers, 12 different NFL signal callers ran for at least 269 yards last season. The trends suggest even more dual-threat production is on the way as four first-or-second-year quarterbacks rushed for more than 420 yards: Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky. Only ten players in all of football, for example, ran for more touchdowns than Allen did with eight.    

In scouting Fitzgerald, one will see a lot, including, perhaps, the future.

"I really think that, in these next couple of years, you are going to really see NFL offenses change," Fitzgerald detailed. "I truly believe that you are going to get away from just only having pocket passer guys that can't really make plays with their legs. You are going to see teams move towards the Lamar Jacksons, Baker Mayfields and myself and people like that who can make plays with their legs, extend plays and get out of the pocket and just do something different than drop back and throw the ball downfield."

Literally and figuratively, a player Fitzgerald has followed is one of pro football's current pioneers in Prescott. A star in Dallas, Prescott worked with Fitzgerald as his top understudy in 2015. Prescott, after being selected in the 4th round, 135th overall, the next spring, went on to become the AP NFL Rookie of the Year. Already, he has made two Pro Bowl appearances, has twice led the Cowboys to NFC East titles and is fresh off a postseason victory over the Seattle Seahawks this past year.

Part of Fitzgerald's progression at Mississippi State was learning how to replace a program legend. Such a task could have been consuming. Fitzgerald, instead, leaves Starkville with his own legacy. The Bulldogs, correspondingly, have a lineage.     

"As someone who had to follow the most-well known, the most-loved player to ever play at Mississippi State in Dak Prescott, having to follow a guy like that, you have to try to make your own way, make your own name," Fitzgerald explained. "Try not to be the next Dak Prescott, I wanted to be the first Nick Fitzgerald. In a lot ways, me and Dak are similar, in a lot of ways we are not. We had different careers and different successes. I'm very proud of that."

Like Prescott, the true nuance of Fitzgerald's numbers come by way of who they came against. It's one thing to fill up a box score; it's two or three to do it in college football's toughest conference. Fitzgerald faced ten defenders who were first round picks in the 2017 and 2018 NFL Drafts, a total only set to increase dramatically with the likes of Josh Allen, Deandre Baker, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Jachai Polite, Deionte Thompson, Devin White, Greedy Williams, Quinnen Williams and Mack Wilson all standing as 2019 possibilities.

Last season, alone, also counting non-conference contests, Fitzgerald took on eight of the country's top 37 units in total defense, not to mention going head-to-head against the national leader in yards allowed every week in practice. One way or another, the best of the best has always been standard. Every one of Fitzgerald's 9,823 yards from scrimmage, including a 9-yard reception in 2016, he earned. 

Counting only his statistics against league foes, Fitzgerald would still be one of just five SEC quarterbacks ever with at least both 25 career passing touchdowns and 25 career rushing touchdowns, joining Joshua Dobbs, Johnny Manziel, Dak Prescott and Tim Tebow.  

"People can try to argue about it all they want, but the SEC is by far the top of the top when it comes to college football and the SEC West is really just the top part of that in itself," Fitzgerald stated. "Every single week you are playing a team that has the ability to beat anyone from any other conference. Week-in and week-out, it's grueling and you are going to get some of the best players in college football every single week which is obviously going to transfer over to playing the best of the best in the SEC and the NFL every week."

A resume to remember in the rear-view, Fitzgerald remains focused on his craft ahead of Mississippi State's Pro Day at the end of the month. Fitzgerald, after standing out amongst his peers at the NFL Combine, has even more to show in the coming weeks. With the likes of Jonathan Abram, Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat on the schedule, plenty of scouts will be in Starkville when various Bulldogs look to put on a show. A unique talent with considerable upside, Fitzgerald is definitely a name to watch. 

Even with the uncertainty that surrounds all prospects during any transition, there is a sense of calm to the easy-going Fitzgerald. Confident in both what he has done and what he will do, Fitzgerald is working hard for whatever comes next. He is enjoying the pre-draft process along the way. 

"Honestly, it's probably been one of the least stressful times of my whole life. Probably the only time in my life where all I've had to do is wake up, work out a few times and then run and throw routes. Don't have to worry about school or practice. It's all been a really good experience," Fitzgerald acknowledged. "I've been down in south Florida training at a place called XPE. Went to the combine, I think I had a great showing. Now I'm back in Starkville, working out on my own and continuing to work towards our pro day on the 27th."

On the field, there isn't much that Fitzgerald hasn't done. Through it all, there isn't much that he hasn't heard. Playing quarterback in the SEC comes with remarkable pressure. Acclaim and criticism is simply part of the job. When it comes to pundits evaluating his NFL potential, none of the narratives are new. Fitzgerald is controlling what he can control, staying true to his values and focused on his goals.

"Yeah, I have my critics. I have people that really support me, I have people that didn't support me. It all comes down to the fact that I know that I went out there every single day and gave my absolute all for my team, for my coaches, my family, the fans. That's all you can do at the end of the day," Fitzgerald added. "I had a career that was up and down at times, but I wouldn't change a thing and I'm really proud of what I have been able to do over the last three years."

Looking ahead, there are countless possibilities. There are zero regrets. 

"There are a lot of things in my career that I'm proud of," he concluded. "I'm proud of the records that I set. Mostly, I'm proud of getting my degree. I'm proud of graduating with my finance degree and setting myself up for life after football."

The next few months will be fascinating for Fitzgerald as he goes through the NFL Draft and chases a professional dream. Fitzgerald has his strengths, has his weaknesses, but, as importantly, has his own powerful perspective. As past efforts show, Fitzgerald has never been one to back down from a challenge.  

As others debate Fitzgerald's stock, the quarterback just continues to work. All he has ever needed was a chance.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports