While the Pittsburgh Steelers have certainly taken their chances in the past on physically gifted players who have a lot of catching up to do as football players—think Bud Dupree or Artie Burns—they have generally favored bringing in ‘gamer’-type athletes to add to their locker room.
Their most recent three first-round picks tell that story. All three of them—T.J. Watt in 2017, Terrell Edmunds in 2018, and Devin Bush in 2019—come from NFL bloodlines, the two most recent being second-generation NFL players, while Watt is of course the younger brother of J.J. Watt, one of the top defenders of this generation and a future Hall of Famer.
Each of these three players has been able to come in and start immediately, and to contribute positively while doing so. That was especially the case for Watt in 2017, and now this year with Bush, who is looking to make a run at the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
And they added another young ‘gamer’ via trade this season with Minkah Fitzpatrick, acquiring him for the cost of a first-round pick from the Miami Dolphins. The 22-year-old has drawn high praise all around from his coaches to his teammates, as echoed in the sentiment expressed by Joe Haden yesterday.
“I feel about Minkah the same way I feel about T.J. Watt — they’re two dudes mature beyond their years that take the game very seriously”, he told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “They’re going to be very good for a very long time because it means a lot to them. They practice hard, they take good notes. Football is a very high priority with them”.
Fitzpatrick is part of a rebuilt secondary that now features three first-round picks, Edmunds and Haden being the others. Supplemented by 2019 free agent acquisition Steven Nelson and third-year slot defender Mike Hilton, the defensive backfield they currently have has the potential to be the best that they have had in nearly a decade.
And the Steelers envision Fitzpatrick being a huge part of that. They wouldn’t have made an in-season trade the way they did if they didn’t have big plans for him. They coveted him significantly when he came out for the draft last year, but they knew they would never be in-range to select him outright, so when he became available to them, they acted.
And so far, he has lived up to the expectations of not just the front office and the coaching staff, but also the locker room and his teammates. Haden is one of the most respected men in the locker room, so getting an endorsement like that from him means something.