It seems every outlet these days flourishes on rankings and lists. It’s understandable, as it’s ideal offseason fodder when conversations can be difficult to generate during times in which there is little going on. One of the most energetic conversations is usually about who doesn’t make such and such a list.
This year, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a notable exemption from Pro Football Focus’ top 50 players list: Two-time first-team All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has been one of the most impactful defensive players in terms of takeaways over the past two seasons. He did make the list of the 13 players who ‘just missed’ the actual list, though, as Sam Monson writes:
Since the Dolphins traded Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers, he has been one of the best playmakers at the safety position in the NFL. He has back-to-back seasons with impressive grades, and his coverage numbers were even better in Year 2 than in his first season in Pittsburgh.
Fitzpatrick allowed just nine catches on the 20 targets he faced as the primary coverage defender last season, and he came away with seven pass breakups along with four interceptions. There isn’t much separating Fitzpatrick from the players who made the PFF50, particularly at his position, other than the absence of either a phenomenal season, which Justin Simmons has on his resume, or a consistent grading profile that’s just a little bit better, which is the case for John Johnson III and Marcus Williams. Fitzpatrick is definitely on the right course and could easily make the PFF50 ahead of the 2022 season.
Now, I don’t know how motivated Fitzpatrick might be by something like this, though truth be told, I would bet it’s not much. He’s a pretty self-motivated individual whose quest is to be the best. I see him much like T.J. Watt, who, when he looks at his tape, sees only the plays he didn’t make.
And there are plays he doesn’t make. His tackling slipped somewhat last season, particularly in comparison to his first year in Pittsburgh. He had one notable shoulder tackle attempt in the middle of last season that led to a very long touchdown, for which he took full blame.
Whether or not he is one of the top 50 players in the league, though, he is clearly indispensable to the Steelers both now and in the future. He is playing out his fourth year this season, but will be due for a long, and very large, contract extension in 2022.
What I do know for certain is that Pittsburgh has no regrets about their return on investment. They gave up a first-round pick for him in 2019, 18 games into his career. He’s since become, minus Watt, the most impactful and dynamic player they have had on that side of the ball since Troy Polamalu.
And yes, the absurdity of the headline is intentional.