The Pittsburgh Steelers made one of the better trades in franchise history when acquiring safety Minkah Fitzpatrick at the beginning of the 2019 season. Fitzpatrick has emerged as one of the premier safeties in the league, and NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks named him one of the 10 best non-quarterback building blocks under the age of 26.
“Despite playing as a traditional center fielder in the Steelers’ scheme, Fitzpatrick is the versatile safety most defensive coaches covet in the secondary. The All-Pro displays cornerback-like agility and cover skills while possessing the high IQ and positional flexibility to play as a slot corner or hybrid linebacker if needed. In a league trending toward positionless football on each side of the ball, Fitzpatrick’s versatility and ball skills (19 career interceptions, including a season-high six picks in 2022) make him an intriguing building block for defensive coordinator Teryl Austin,” Brooks wrote.
Fitzpatrick spent the majority of his rookie season as a slot corner for the Miami Dolphins, hence his corner-like agility. He played a hybrid star position at Alabama under Nick Saban, and being coached by great defensive minds like Saban, Brian Flores in Pittsburgh and Miami along with Mike Tomlin and Teryl Austin has surely helped his football IQ and ability.
His IQ is already one of his strengths, but it’s something that he’s emphasized building on to make his game even better. His ball skills are among the best in the NFL, leading the league in interceptions last season and he’s had at least two every season he’s been in Pittsburgh.
He’s not just a pure coverage safety either. He led the Steelers with 124 tackles in 2021, a year in which it was a necessity for him to make plays due to Pittsburgh’s porous run defense. While being the team’s leading tackler isn’t something that should ever happen again, it goes to show Fitzpatrick’s multi-faceted abilities and versatility as he can drop back in coverage or come up and make plays in the box.
Fitzpatrick is only going to get better. He’s still young – he turns 27 in November — and signed a long-term contract last offseason to keep him in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future. He’s trending towards being the next great Steelers’ safety in a long line of them, and he isn’t the only building block on the defense. While the age limit took outside linebacker T.J. Watt out of contention, he’s another player to build around on Pittsburgh’s defense.
It’s rare for a defense to have so many star-level players, and if the group remains healthy this season, it could be a special unit. There are still some holes, particularly at slot corner, but there’s depth at pretty much every position and has a lot of intriguing young talent. It’s going to be a fun unit to watch and hopefully a group that can help lead the Steelers to a lot of wins in 2023.