There aren’t a lot to choose from, but it’s hard to find a better in-season trade the Pittsburgh Steelers have made over time than the one that they pulled the trigger on early last year. No, I’m not talking about Nick Vannett, surprisingly enough, but rather Minkah Fitzpatrick, a former first-round safety in his second season who finished the year as a first-team All-Pro.
Acquired after two games of play, Fitzpatrick, who was selected 11th overall by the Miami Dolphins in 2018, would play the final 14 games of the year for the Steelers, taking over the free safety position after Sean Davis suffered a season-ending injury in Week Two.
He pretty much immediately transformed the defense, and finished the year with five interceptions, a forced fumble, two recoveries, and two defensive touchdowns, but he is already looking forward to finding ways to take his game a level even further.
“This offseason will allow me to master the details. I learned the defense pretty fast and got it down pretty well when I got there. I spent a lot of time studying it”, he recently told the team’s website. “I think now I can master the details of the defense, learn what the linebackers are doing, what the front guys are doing. It’s going to allow me to go out there and play faster, play quicker, play more instinctive, rather than go out there and guessing what people are doing”.
with Fitzpatrick added to the starting defense—immediately, as he only had about five days between his acquisition and his first game in the black and gold—the defensive transformation really seemed to begin in earnest, and the unit became one of the best in the league, particularly in terms of play-to-play efficiency.
The safety heading into his third season was obviously a substantial part of that, but he thinks he can play an even bigger role next year. He has already talked during the offseason about how he wants to become a more unpredictable player so teams can’t throw away from him. He also simply wants to learn about his team more.
“I didn’t get to have an offseason with the Steelers yet. It’s a great group of guys to be around in general”, he said. “It’s going to be great to dive into the team more, learn about each other more, do team activities and stuff like that. I am excited. It will be good to be back with my teammates”.
Fitzpatrick’s five interceptions last season were the most by any Steeler since Troy Polamalu in 2010—nobody had more than three in that span—but his last interception came with seven games still to play. He produced just one takeaway over the final seven games, or half of his tenure in Pittsburgh. He doesn’t want to have a similar lull going forward.