It’s probably a good sign when the guy that you gave up a first-round pick two games into a season for ends up finishing the year as a first-team All-Pro, with respect to anticipating your return on investment. The Pittsburgh Steelers were thoroughly doubted and questioned when they gave that up for Miami Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, but there’s almost nobody questioning it now.
As mentioned, Fitzpatrick received first-team All-Pro honors for his second season in the NFL, after being selected 11th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. He intercepted five passes and recovered a couple of fumbles, in addition to causing one, in his time with the Steelers, returning one of each for a touchdown.
As should not be surprising, the Alabama product was also named to the Pro Bowl, and he is currently down in Florida practicing for the game this weekend, where he spoke to reporters for the first time since the Steelers had their season unceremoniously end.
One reporter asked Fitzpatrick about what the trade meant for his career, and whether or not he might have had the same success, and accolades, had that not happened. “I think it would’ve happened, it just would’ve happened later”, he said. “I think I still would’ve been playing at a high level. Last year at Miami I played at a high level as a rookie”.
“I think Pittsburgh just expedited that process a little bit”, he added. “They allowed me to just go out there and play ball, play instinctive football, play up my preparation. I had a great cast around me to play with. I think I still would’ve had the success that I’ve had, but it wouldn’t have been as fast”.
The Dolphins had Fitzpatrick playing all over the field, with ambitions toward having him move around even more in year two, something he didn’t want to do, and one of the reasons he wanted to be traded. He still racked up 80 tackles and two interceptions in 2018 with nine passes defensed and a touchdown.
When the Steelers acquired him, they made sure to let him know that, at least initially, they were going to limit what they were asking him to do. After all, they didn’t really have an option. If you’re going to ask somebody to learn your defense in a few days, you can’t ask him to do too many different things.
He has played so well as a true free safety, however, that I don’t expect they’re going to deviate much from that role going forward. He will of course move around some—most players do—but if you have a great free safety, you want him playing there anyway. That’s how he got to the Pro Bowl.