INDIANAPOLIS (92.3 The Fan) – When Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick looks at the Cleveland Browns he doesn’t see 0-16, 1-31 or even the clustermess of awful personnel decisions combined with lousy football Cleveland’s watched for nearly two decades.
He sees opportunity.
“The Browns are still, they’re a great team,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s an NFL team, they have great talent. Offense, defense, special teams, they’ve got 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 and apply it to the Browns.”
Ravens Hall of Famer Ray Lewis dubbed Fitzpatrick “a culture changer” in an interview with Colin Cowherd on Friday and Sunday the Alabama defensive back was asked to describe himself as a leader.
“I’m kind of a combination of the do-as-I-do and the vocal guy,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’d never really been extremely vocal my freshman, sophomore year, I just did everything right, did what I was supposed to do and people just follow, but then my junior year I was kind of challenged by Coach Saban, my defensive back coach just to be more vocal and I had to call some guys out and get in some scuffles or whatever, but I did it because I loved them and I did it because I wanted to see the best version of themselves. I just think I’m a combination of the two.”
Fitzpatrick is regarded as one of the top-three prospects in this draft class right there with NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley making general manager John Dorsey’s decision of what to do with the fourth pick in the draft difficult and intriguing.
The Browns are in desperate need of a playmaker on the back end of their defense at free safety and cornerback and Fitzpatrick would provide just that. He returned 4 of his 9 interceptions for touchdowns at Alabama. In total he broke up 24 passes, had 110 solo tackles – 171 combined and 16.5 of them for a loss, forced 2 fumbles and had 5 sacks in 3 seasons.
But the question remains, where does he fit best?
“I’m strongest covering man-to-man, whether that be inside corner, outside corner or even just at safety coming down and covering man-to-man,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s what I did pretty much all my career at Alabama, I usually covered the top receiver on the offensive side of the ball, unless he just stayed outside all the time, but if he was a guy that moved around, I’d follow him around.”
Some draft evaluations of Fitzpatrick point out that he doesn’t have the hip flexibility or quick feet to play corner in the NFL consistently, which is something he’s aiming to prove false in Indianapolis.
“I can show people that I have the hips and feet for corner but I also have the IQ and the tackling ability of a safety,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think that’s really important to show coaches when I’m out there doing my drills, and then I think, just going into the draft, it’s giving me a little bit of an up. They know I can play multiple positions at a high level, not just playing there but also playing at a high level.”
Last season Jabrill Peppers, picked 24th overall in the 2017 draft served as the free safety in Gregg Williams’ defense where he lined up in Ashtabula drawing criticism from all angles because he made next to no impact as a rookie because of it.
Fitzpatrick was asked about that Sunday.
“He was an athlete and they know that he can play. He can play six yards from the ball, he can play 20 yards from the ball, he can still make plays because that’s just the type of player he is,” Fitzpatrick said. “They’re still learning how to use him because it’s his first year there and I’m sure they’re going to adjust some things to be able allow him to make more plays. It’s a learning process between the coaches and the players.”
How would Fitzpatrick react to being put in that role?
“I’d be happy out there on the field,” Fitzpatrick said.