2020 Offseason Questions: Who Is Best Safety In AFC North?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.

The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.

How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Who is the best safety in the AFC North?

Note: for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to use images of Steelers for the cover photos of these articles. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m arguing they’re the best.

Now things are getting interesting. Do you take the established, longtime veteran, or do you go with the young up-and-comer? And how do you account for bias? While there are other solid safeties in the division, no doubt, I think it’s pretty easy to quickly boil the conversation down to Minkah Fitzpatrick of the Steelers and Earl Thomas of the Baltimore Ravens.

Both were Pro Bowlers in 2019, though Minkah Fitzpatrick was a first-team All-Pro. Thomas did not make the All-Pro team. He last made All-Pro in 2017, though of course he missed most of the 2018 season due to injury, so that can’t exactly be held against him.

Thomas is a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro. He certainly has the better resume, but that’s compared against a guy who has been in the league for two years. During an in-season trade year, Fitzpatrick put up seven takeaways with two defensive touchdowns, including five interceptions and two fumble recoveries, and he also had a forced fumble.

Of the two, Fitzpatrick was also the more reliable tackler. The Ravens had Thomas playing in the box more than he was used to, and we saw this translate to an uptick in missed tackles. He is only an average run defender. I do think Fitzpatrick has a higher upside in that department, but as deep safeties, they are certainly two of the best in the game.

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