How often does a team acquire a player midseason who eventually goes on to become a staple of the franchise for a decade or more? Let alone this happening for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Of course we’re jumping the gun there, but that is how the team feels about Minkah Fitzpatrick, which is why they were willing to send a first-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for him back in Week Three of the regular season.
At the time, he was a second-year safety just 18 games into his career, and he had some dissatisfaction with how the team was using him. The Steelers just saw Sean Davis go down, too, so the stars really just aligned to make things happen.
From that point forward, he went on to finish the season as a first-team All-Pro, becoming the Steelers’ first defensive back to achieve that since Troy Polamalu. His five interceptions were also the most since Polamalu did it in 2010. Joe Haden would also get five by the end of the year.
The 11th-year veteran does deserve a bit of credit for Fitzpatrick, because two of the safety’s interceptions came off of passes that Haden defended. The cornerback took time recently to talk about the defense and about his defensive backfield teammate.
“I think what really clicked for us last year was bringing in Minkah. He’s obviously a great, great player, but he’s very, very technically sound”, he told NFL at Home for the league’s website. “He understands defenses very well. He’s very instinctual. He doesn’t just have to see something happen and then react to it, he anticipates what’s going to happen”.
Coming out of Alabama, he was indeed regarded as an intelligent football player, and the study habits he has exhibited, as recounted by some of his teammates such as T.J. Watt, shows how much classroom work goes into translating it into stadiums, rather than just the practice fields.
Haden continued to talk up his fellow 2019 Pro Bowler, calling him “an elite player. He’s an All-Pro player. When you add an All-Pro player to your defense that was already a stacked defense, it’s just going to help out in a tremendous way”.
The Steelers had one of the tightest pass defenses in the league from Week Three when Fitzpatrick was acquired to the end of the year, and that is both because they were throwing to him in the first half of the season, and then because they were trying to avoid him in the second half.
He doesn’t deserve all the credit, of course. Steven Nelson was also a key addition, as was Devin Bush at linebacker, and the pass rush took itself to another level. Of course, rush and coverage help each other out. The better one is, the better the other does, and so on and so on.