When the Dolphins drafted Minkah Fitzpatrick in April, they hoped they would have a longterm starting safety. As it turns out, they also might have drafted someone capable of being a starting cornerback if they decide to go in that direction.
Though there’s a good chance Fitzpatrick could end up playing safety for the Dolphins longterm, he is beginning to emerge as a potentially viable option at boundary corner, opposite Xavien Howard, after playing effectively there in 32 snaps the past two weeks.
Fitzpatrick has played a few more snaps at boundary cornerback than slot corner the past two games while also logging 62 snaps at safety.
After playing 75 percent of the team’s snaps in the first eight games (and mostly at slot corner), Fitzpatrick has played all but one defensive snap in each of the past two games.
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He said switching between three positions — actually four, because he has played both safety spots — hasn’t been the least bit problematic.
“I think I’ve done pretty well,” he said Monday before Adam Gase gave his players six days off on their bye week. “I’ve done my assignment, done my job just about every play. We do a really good job of preparing during the week. We all move around, whether it’s me, Bobby [McCain] or somebody else. I think we’ve done a good job overall as a secondary doing that.”
Fitzpatrick played 10 percent of his snaps at boundary cornerback at Alabama in 2016 but just two percent last year and it didn’t go well. On all of those outside cornerback snaps at Alabama, he allowed 7 of 13 passes to be completed for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
But he has been very good in 25 passing plays at boundary cornerback the past two games. He has been targeted twice and neither pass was completed.
“Both places [boundary and slot], you’re covering guys, but one is a little bit more space than the other one,” Fitzpatrick said. “Just different feels. You’ve got to kind of ease your way into it and not overthink it.”
Fitzpatrick said when he started receiving boundary cornerback snaps a couple of weeks ago — a move that allowed Bobby McCain to resume playing more in the slot — he wasn’t shocked because it was discussed earlier “behind closed doors. They always told me to be prepared to move out there. I’ve always made sure I knew what they were doing out there. They knew I could do it. They trusted me to do it. There was no surprise really.”
He has spent years closely watching one boundary cornerback in particular: Arizona’s Patrick Peterson.
“One guy I’ve always loved was Patrick Peterson,” he said. “I love watching him play. He is one of the best, if not the best cover corner in the league. A lot of guys are athletes out there and they just use that. He uses his athleticism and his technique and that’s what makes him who he is.”
So which is the easiest of the three positions to play among safety, slot corner and boundary corner?
“I couldn’t say… because they all have different things that are hard,” Fitzpatrick said. “The safety position is harder mentally than the other two. I think nickel is overall the hardest, both mentally and physically. Outside corner is a whole different monster on its own. Just being out there, I would just say all three of them are pretty hard.”
Fitzpatrick has played well at all three. According to Pro Football Focus, Fitzpatrick was the team’s highest-graded defensive player in Week 10 at 81.4 overall. Fitzpatrick came into the game with a league-best 50.3 passer rating against when targeted and those numbers actually improved.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers targeted him just three times, completing one pass for zero yards while another pass was broken up. Over the last five games (Chicago, Detroit, Houston, New York and Green Bay), Fitzpatrick has allowed a combined four receptions for 22 yards when targeted in coverage.
Which of the three positions best suits him?
“I’m not sure yet,” he said. “I’m still a rookie, still trying to find my way and do what I’ve got to do to make plays.”
But he said he takes “a lot of pride” in playing all three “because it’s not something that a lot of people can do and it’s not easy to do. Sometimes I do wish I had one position just to be safe and sound at. But I think it just adds to my stock, my value to the team.”
During the Dolphins’ bye week, Fitzpatrick plans “to hang out with my family for the first couple of days, then head back to Tuscaloosa and hang out with some of my people back there and check out the team.”
Alabama plays host to The Citadel at noon Saturday.
“It’s really good seeing my boys ball out,” he said.
HOW FITZPATRICK HAS DONE AT EVERY POSITION
Thanks to Ryan Smith and the good folks at Pro Football Focus, here’s a look at how Fizpatrick has fared in every position he has played this season:
Fitzpatrick at strong safety - 9 coverage snaps, 1 target, 1 reception, 0 yards
Fitzpatrick at slot corner - 187 coverage snaps, 32 targets, 15 receptions, 107 yards, 1 INT, 6 first downs
Fitzpatrick at outside corner - 25 coverage snaps, 2 targets, 0 receptions
Fitzpatrick at free safety - 78 coverage snaps, 2 targets, 1 reception, 12 yards, 1 first down