For the first time since 1967, the Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2020 NFL Draft without a selection in the first round. In fact, their earliest selection does not come until the middle of the second round at pick number 49. But the team is very comfortable with what they got for giving up that pick.
Between the second and third games of the season, the Steelers dealt their 2020 first-round pick, in addition to swapping a series of late-round draft picks, to the Miami Dolphins. In return, they received Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Alabama safety Miami drafted 11th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Playing the final 14 games in Pittsburgh Fitzpatrick would go on to record five interceptions, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, and two defensive touchdowns. He was named a Pro Bowl starter and a member of the first-team All-Pro team.
Said owner Art Rooney II just before the draft, “it’s a big deal that we got Minkah”, referring to last year’s trade, and the reason that their 18th-overall pick they would normally be using tonight currently belongs to the Dolphins. “I’m going to tune into Minkah Fitzpatrick highlights and remind myself we already got our first-round pick this year”.
Art Rooney II on not having a first round pick tonight:
“It’s a big deal that we got Minkah. I think when our pick comes up, I’m going to tune into Minkah Fitzpatrick highlights and remind myself we already got our first-round pick this year.”
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) April 23, 2020
Of course, when you give up a first-round pick, you do so knowing that you’re getting something significant in return. The Steelers have already gotten strong return on investment from their 2020 first-round pick, 14 games of All-Pro level free safety play from a young player who stands to become a part of a defensive nucleus for, perhaps, the next decade or so.
It’s hard to say that they would have been able to get similar value over pick number 18 tonight. Not that there aren’t plenty of great players available and ready to be drafted, beginning as we sit here right now, but how many first-round picks go on to be first-team All-Pros, especially by their second year?
And considering the circumstances shaping this offseason, with a limited amount of off-field knowledge about prospects, there are more variables than there would normally be. Not that the Steelers had any way of knowing the country would be engulfed in a pandemic a few months after making the trade.
The defense seemed like night and day once Fitzpatrick arrived, helping to elevate those around him, while making significant plays himself. He was the first Steelers player to record more than three interceptions in a single season since Troy Polamalu in 2010.
Joe Haden would later match his five interceptions and join him in the Pro Bowl as an alternate, arguably an example of how he helped elevate the rest of the defense—though Haden also helped Fitzpatrick. Two of his interceptions came off of passes deflected by Haden.