As has become common anytime there’s been an “under-25” list made the last two offseasons, Pittsburgh Steelers’ safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is included. Sure enough, NFL.com’s Nick Shook’s latest list includes him, writing this about the Steelers’ ball-hawking centerfielder.
“Fitzpatrick makes an appearance on this list for the second year in a row. He’s one of only two players with 10 or more interceptions and three or more returned for a touchdown since 2018, joining Marcus Peters in this rare company. Fitzpatrick allowed the lowest completion percentage (45.5%) in the NFL last season, per Next Gen Stats (min. 30 targets). His ballhawk rate (the percentage of targets where the nearest defender made a pass defensed or interception) of 33.3 percent ranked third in the league, painting a picture of a complete safety with even more room to grow. It’s truly remarkable that Fitzpatrick has done all of this and won’t turn 25 until November.”
As Shook notes, this is the second year Fitzpatrick has made NFL.com’s list. It’s no surprise and there’s little debate about if Fitzpatrick is worth including. He’s been a difference-maker in the secondary since the Steelers aggressively gave up a first-round pick to get him during the 2019 season. In his two years with Pittsburgh, he’s been named an All-Pro Twice, picking off nine passes with a pair of pick-sixes over that span.
Our defensive charting shows even better numbers than what Next Gen has recorded. Here’s what QBs have done when targeting him the last two seasons: 16/44, 179 yards, 3 TDs, 7 INTs.
That’s a QB rating of just 32.5, a remarkably strong number. By the way, if you’re wondering why we have him down for just seven interceptions instead of nine, there were INTs he had where another defender was credited (i.e. they tipped a pass that Fitzpatrick came down with).
No matter how you quantify it, Fitzpatrick has been the missing link in the Steelers’ defense. Wise and mature beyond his years, It’s hard to believe he’s still 24. The only downside is that this will be the last offseason he’ll appear on this list. As Shook notes, Fitzpatrick turns 25 later this season.
Joining him at safety on NFL.com’s list is Bengals’ free safety Jessie Bates. In a recent interview, Fitzpatrick said Bates is one of the safeties he studies to learn from. Bates was part of Fitzpatrick’s 2018 draft class and has nine career interceptions for the Bengals.
Fitzpatrick, Bates, and QB Lamar Jackson were the only three players chosen from the AFC North.