Minkah Fitzpatrick has been a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers for 30 games since first acquired via trade two games into the 2019 season. He has been named a first-team All-Pro twice in that span. He has registered nine interceptions with 20 passes defensed, two forced fumbled, three recoveries, and three defensive touchdowns.
His secondary group, however, has lost two starters since last season in outside cornerback Steven Nelson and slot defender Mike Hilton. Even though he himself has a versatile skill set, though, he told reporters today that he doesn’t expect to be used as the answer. Asked how he sees his role changing this year, he said, “I don’t think too much is going to change. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
When you look at his numbers and what he’s done while remaining more or less exclusively in a free safety role, it’s easy to see why he, and perhaps the coaching staff, feel that way. His arrival into the secondary and his doing what he’s been doing has been transformative. You don’t want to tinker with a recipe that is already satisfying.
Nevertheless, the Steelers still have a question on their hands. While they still have Joe Haden at one starting spot, and Cameron Sutton is targeted for another, they must figure out who their fifth defensive back will be, whether it’s Justin Layne, James Pierre, Arthur Maulet, or one of the rookies.
And Fitzpatrick has been more open in the past about his role expanding into more varied positions. Back in January of last year, he said that the team would “definitely add to the arsenal of what I can do and moving around and stuff. Because that last half of the season, I didn’t really have too much production. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job, it was just because quarterbacks were just staying out of the middle of the field, staying away from my half when I was in a half”.
He said again a couple of weeks after that that he would like to be “a moving piece on the chess board” for the defense. However, the numbers from last season show that he didn’t really vary much from what his role was the year before, at least in the percentage of where he lined up, which was about 80 percent of the time at free safety.
Ideally, you have enough talent throughout your secondary where you don’t have to get creative to force production. It is always beneficial to put people in unexpected places, because it confuses the offense, but if you only have one person capable of making plays, it really limits what you can do.