With each passing week, it’s beginning to look more and more likely that the Pittsburgh Steelers are earning a top-10 pick for the Miami Dolphins, to whom they traded their first-round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. And with each passing week, it’s looking more and more like the man for whom they gave up that resource, second-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, was worth the investment.
Fitzpatrick, whom the Dolphins selected with the 11th-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft—the first safety off the board—has now been in the Steelers’ system for three games. During that time, he has racked up 16 tackles, a quarterback hit, an interception, two passes defensed, and a forced fumble. He also helped create another turnover last week, an interception by Kameron Kelly.
The Steelers made the decision to acquire Fitzpatrick after learning that their starting free safety, Sean Davis, had suffered a torn labrum that was likely to sideline him for at least the majority of the year. They placed him on the Reserve/Injured List after acquiring Fitzpatrick, but the latter is a long-term investment.
Davis is going to be a free agent in 2020, one that they pretty much understood was going to sign with somebody else. So being injured, he was essentially already gone to them. the Steelers suddenly were in the market for a new free safety, and were able to get one right away.
One that they had already coveted. They studied Fitzpatrick a lot last year, but head coach Mike Tomlin admitted it was a “pipe dream” to think they would be in position to draft him, and of course they were nowhere close. They did end up drafting Terrell Edmunds instead, alongside whom he is now starting.
In the meantime, however, the Steelers are 1-4, which is tied for the fourth-worst record in the NFL right now behind only Washington, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the New York Jets, none of whom have a win yet. The Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons are also 1-4 on the season, so they are competing right now for the final two spots in the top five of the 2020 NFL Draft.
But despite the dismal projections of a .200 winning percentage, the Steelers actually remain shockingly viable in the AFC North right now, given how week it is. The Baltimore Ravens lead it at 3-2, with not a quality win yet to their name. The only good opponent beat them.
It’s quite realistic that the Steelers could still win the AFC North, and thus manage to at least be drafting late in the first round, with an 8-8 record. The Dolphins chose Pittsburgh among five teams willing to offer a first-round pick for Fitzpatrick because they believed they had the best chance of offering the highest pick.
Thanks to a weak division, that may not hold out to be true. It doesn’t particularly matter to Pittsburgh, because that pick is already gone to them, however. What matters is the player Fitzpatrick becomes over time, and the early returns have been very encouraging.