Ranking season continues on with training camps just days away from getting underway and ESPN.com is now winding down their positional series for 2020. On Friday, ESPN.com released their rankings of the top 10 safeties for the 2020 season and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick made the cut inside the top 5.
According to ESPN.com, more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts, and players were asked to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions. Voters gave their best 10 to 15 players at a position, then the results were compiled, and the candidates ranked based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, interviews and research. Ties were broken by isolating the two-man matchup with additional voting and follow-up calls.
The list of top 10 safeties for 2020 includes Jamal Adams of New York Jets at the top and he’s followed by Harrison Smith of the Minnesota Vikings and then Fitzpatrick of the Steelers. Derwin James of the Los Angeles Chargers and Kevin Byard of the Tennessee Titans round out the top five safeties for 2020.
Here is the synopsis on Fitzpatrick making the top 10 for 2020:
Fitzpatrick got multiple first-place votes thanks to the incredible range displayed in 2019, picking off five passes along with 130 interception return yards.
If there’s a passing window to be crashed, Fitzpatrick breaks the glass.
The second-year safety was a catalyst for the Steelers’ return to defensive dominance in 2019.
“He has a really good feel for route combinations and attacking an opponent’s game plan,” an NFL passing game coordinator said. “He understands angles, space and recognizing tendencies. He’s a master craftsman.”
Miami drafted Fitzpatrick in 2018 as a pass-coverage weapon to be used all over the field. As a result, he played multiple positions.
After his trade request landed him in Pittsburgh, the Steelers simplified things for him. That paid off in a big way.
“His versatility in Miami actually held him back. He was doing too much,” an NFC exec said. “Pittsburgh’s fire zone asked him to play open spots, go get the ball, and he took off.”
That’s an impressive few sentences on Fitzpatrick and very much expected. The fact that he’s listed in the top 3 is also satisfying. However, the point must be made that the two players ranked above Fitzpatrick, Adams, and Smith, are both primarily strong safeties. Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, is best suited as a free safety.
In short, these rankings essentially show that Fitzpatrick is currently regarded by many as the best free safety in the NFL as he enters his third season in the league. The fact that Fitzpatrick as also already played some in the box in his first two seasons in the NFL and especially as a rookie with the Miami Dolphins, could easily lead one to argue that he belongs at the top of these rankings instead of at third.
Fitzpatrick’s arrival in Pittsburgh last season via a trade with the Dolphins resulted in him immediately impacting the Steelers defense quite noticeably. It went on to remain that way the rest of the season and Fitzpatrick wound up not only being voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time, but being named a First-Team All-Pro for the first time as well.
Fitzpatrick wound up being the highest-ranked Steelers player for 2020 at any of the positions and that’s not overly surprising. He has a legitimate chance at being ranked No. 1 overall on ESPN’s list of safeties a year from now as well.
In case you’re curious, below are this year’s top 10:
1. Jamal Adams, New York Jets
2. Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings
3. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers
5. Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans
6. Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
7. Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos
8. Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears
9. Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals
10. Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills