Minkah Fitzpatrick can do it all.
Don’t hold it against him.
The only question regarding the Alabama defensive back is if he will play safety or cornerback for the team that drafts him, almost certainly in the top 10. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said Monday during the defensive back workouts at the scouting combine that Fitzpatrick can play all six secondary spots — both outside corners, free safety, strong safety, slot corner and dime safety.
“Fast enough to play corner, tough enough to play safety,” Mayock said. “It’s a matchup league and it’s important to have chess pieces. You can move him around as a matchup every week.”
Fitzpatrick (6-foot-1, 201 pounds) was a two-time All-American and won the Chuck Bednarik Award (best collegiate defensive player) and Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back) in 2017. He ran with the safeties Monday and timed 4.47 seconds in the 40-yard dash — great for a safety and more than good enough for a cornerback his size.
“He’s going to make plays,” Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders said on the broadcast.
Fitzpatrick entered Alabama as a cornerback and switched to slot corner. He bounced around the secondary, playing some deep safety but mostly inside and closer to the line of scrimmage.
“I worked on it all the time,” he said Sunday in Indianapolis. “It’s a different type of position. It’s a position that’s kind of a combination of corner and safety. You can make calls like a safety. You can rush or fill the holes, working the gaps like a safety. Then you get to cover man-to-man or on pass downs like you need to like a corner.
“I like playing both corner and safety so I think slot corner is an optimal position.”
The slot corner is used more than ever in today’s NFL to combat the nearly ubiquitous three-receiver sets. But for Fitzpatrick to be worth the Browns taking him at No. 4, he’d have to use his versatility and stay on the field for every snap.
The way he says he can cover, that shouldn’t be a problem.
“I’d say I’m strongest covering man-to-man,” he said. “Whether it be inside corner or outside corner or at safety coming down in coverages man-to-man. It’s what I did pretty much my whole career at Alabama. I usually covered the top receiver on the offensive side of the ball unless he stayed outside all the time. But when it was a guy who moved around, I followed him around.”
Ronnie Harrison played mostly free safety for Alabama and praised Fitzpatrick’s versatility, intelligence and instincts.
“He pays attention to the details,” Harrison said. “You could write a whole book on Minkah. He’s a great player all the way around.”
Fitzpatrick played 42 games in three years with nine interceptions — six in 2016 — 110 tackles, 24 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He returned four interceptions for touchdowns.
The Browns need a starting free safety and at least one starting cornerback. They’re expected to be active in free agency, so any veterans they sign would determine where they’d use Fitzpatrick. Coordinator Gregg Williams employs a variety of personnel packages and should have no trouble finding a role or two for Fitzpatrick.
“He’s a very talented player. There’s no question that he can play both positions,” coach Hue Jackson said Wednesday. “If he’s a Cleveland Brown, believe me, we’ll have the right spot for him to play for us.”
The Crimson Tide won two national championships in Fitzpatrick’s three years and he said he could use that experience to help fix the Browns, who went 0-16.
“The Browns are still a great, they’re a great team,” he said. “It’s an NFL team. They have great talent. Offense, defense, special teams. They have great coaches and I think it’s just an issue with the culture around there and I’m just going to have to go down there and use what I learned at Alabama. Apply it to the Browns.”
Fitzpatrick said some NFL teams talked to him about being a corner, some expected him to start outside and shift inside in the nickel and others projected him as a safety. He planned to show them Monday he could do it all.
“I think it will show people I have the hips and feet of a corner, also the IQ and the tackling ability of a safety,” he said. “I think that’s really important to show coaches who are out there doing my drills. Then I think going into the draft, they know I can play multiple positions at a high level. Not just playing there but also at a high level.
“The combine is somewhere you go where they try to devalue you. They try to find reasons to not pay you, you know what I’m saying? So I’m trying to give them reasons to pay me. I’m trying to validate all the reasons why I’m one of the best players in this draft class and I’m just out here being myself, talking ball, talking life. That’s it for real.”
PAYING A VISIT
Former Packers cornerback Sam Shields, 30, is trying to make a comeback and will visit the Browns later this week after meeting with the Rams on Tuesday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Shields (5-11, 184) played one game in 2016, suffered a serious concussion and hasn’t played since. He entered the league in 2010, made the Pro Bowl in 2014 and has started 62 of 80 games. He has 18 interceptions and 67 passes defensed.
Browns general manager John Dorsey, assistant general manager Eliot Wolf and vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith worked with the Packers during Shields’ time there.