How Minkah Fitzpatrick can become Dolphins' 'Honey Badger'

DAVIE, Fla. -- Minkah Fitzpatrick just needed a few seconds to himself last Sunday afternoon after the Miami Dolphins' victory over the New York Jets, to take a few breaths and clear his mind.

He had just finished playing 65 of the Dolphins' 66 defensive snaps at three different positions. He spent time at four different positions in practice that week -- outside cornerback, slot cornerback, free safety and strong safety -- and he played just about all of them Sunday.

"My brain is fried," Fitzpatrick said, with a laugh.

Fitzpatrick is the Dolphins' most versatile defensive player, and he's just a rookie. He's a man without a set position, and he's on his way to becoming the Dolphins' version of the "Honey Badger" -- the Houston Texans' Tyrann Mathieu.

ESPN writer and NFL Matchup analyst Matt Bowen, a former NFL safety, likes how the Dolphins have used him as their Swiss army knife, filling a needed role each week and getting a chance to make an impact near the ball. He says the best way to describe the position is as a playmaker, but if you must define him, he's been used like a slot safety.

"He has a similar skill set as Tyrann Mathieu, and he should be used how Arizona used Tyrann Mathieu," Bowen said. "I don’t care what position he is. Put the best players on the field. If that means you have to play more sub package, that’s what you do. If you have to play him at base-package safety, you have to do it."

The Mathieu comparison makes sense. Both players are used as a cover man close to the line so they can make plays. Both can play dime linebacker and be effective as a blitzer. Both have good ball skills. Of course, Fitzpatrick has to prove more on the field to get to the level of Mathieu, who was named a first-team All-Pro after the 2015 season.

Fitzpatrick has shown he's best inside the numbers, but he can hang at outside cornerback if needed. For most of the season, he was used primarily as a slot cornerback in a part-time role.

"I don’t think we ruled anything out with Minkah. Every time we ask him to do something, he shows that he can do it," defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. "We’re just trying to find different ways to get him on the field in different spots and utilize his skill set."

Fitzpatrick played some snaps at outside cornerback in last week's practice, but he spent most of the sessions at slot cornerback and safety. Then he started at outside cornerback and primarily played the Dolphins first two series there.

It was Fitzpatrick's first time playing outside cornerback in a game since a cameo role for one game at Alabama last season, and he held up well in man coverage against Jets receiver Robby Anderson.

"Going into a game and not knowing where you're going to play at until the day of the game is not easy," Fitzpatrick said. "Obviously I've been moving around everywhere; I haven't been able to sink my teeth in."

Bowen added: "I couldn’t have done that as a rookie. That’s how most rookies are, not just to help the defense, but to survive as a rookie. But Minkah, he's different."

Fitzpatrick might not find a set position this season, and the Dolphins are light on cornerbacks they can trust. Last week, Burke also chose to rotate safeties T.J. McDonald and Reshad Jones out for a series at a time to get Fitzpatrick more time at safety.

That took a twist when Jones refused to re-enter the game after being replaced by Fitzpatrick. But Jones' situation aside, the Dolphins felt the need to make Fitzpatrick a full-time player.

"You want Minkah to be like Neo in 'The Matrix.' To have a player in the Matrix, they have to play. Then the game slows down for you," Bowen said. "I believe the arrow will point up for him even more in the second half of the season."

Fitzpatrick has allowed a 50.8 passer rating when targeted in coverage, best among NFL cornerbacks before Week 9, per Pro Football Focus.

"As much as I've been doing, it's been a surprise, honestly," Fitzpatrick said. "I thought it would be a little bit of free safety, a little bit of strong safety. It's been more than I expected. But it's been fun, and I'm happy with the progress we've made as a team and me individually."

Bowen says the next step for Fitzpatrick in his path to be the Dolphins' version of the "Honey Badger" is to make "consistent impact plays." He has one turnover, an interception of Tom Brady. A better feel in man-to-man situations should create those opportunities.

"He’s on the verge. It’s coming," Bowen said. "He's going to be really special."