For as good as Minkah Fitzpatrick was last season, the most exciting thing about him as he heads into year three is the genuine belief by the Pittsburgh Steelers that he is still going to get better.
Not a lot of players, of course, peak during the first two years of their career, so even though he was already a first-team All-Pro by his second season, it is fair to suggest that he can still get better. After all, we just saw this happen with T.J. Watt, who had a strong sophomore year and then made a serious run at the Defensive Player of the Year Award last season.
Fitzpatrick spoke to reporters on Monday about how things are going in his first full offseason with the Steelers, but we also heard from his position coach, Tom Bradley, whose session with the media was largely dominated by discussion over his most impactful player.
“If you watch him practice every day, he’s one of those guys that tries to get better every day”, Bradley said of his free safety. “He’s not satisfied and he’s always looking for those little edges. And you watch how he goes about his day-to-day business, his work ethic when he’s on the field, when he’s off the field, the way he conditions his body, he’s a guy that’s a consummate professional and always working to get better. So, there’s a lot of room for improvement and he knows that, too”.
In truth, he does know that, and he seemingly constantly talks about how he is trying to get better and to take his game to the next level. For example, after picking off five passes last season, he said that he is looking to get at least six or seven this year. That’s just one specific concrete barometer by which to judge his play, but there are so many more nuanced means of progress that don’t show up in stats in direct ways.
Originally selected with the 11th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins, Fitzpatrick was sent to the Steelers two weeks into the 2019 season in exchange for a first-round pick, and the flipping of some late-round picks that largely evened out.
It had been a very long time—pre-Noll—since Pittsburgh traded out of the first round, treasuring it as their best means of improving their roster, but their gamble has already paid off in acquiring a very talented young free safety who is still very early on in his career and whom they control for three more seasons at a minimum.