One year after coming in at No. 3 in ESPN’s positional rankings at safety, Pittsburgh Steelers’ star Minkah Fitzpatrick was named the league’s top safety Friday.
ESPN’s poll, which features 50 NFL executives, coaches and players, ranked Fitzpatrick as the No. 1 safety in the NFL today, edging out Denver’s Justin Simmons and Arizona’s Budda Baker for the top honors. Of the 50 votes, Fitzpatrick was ranked as high as No. 1 and as low as No. 7, helping him jump two spots in the standings after finishing the 2020 season with 79 tackles, four interceptions (one returned for touchdown), 11 passes defensed, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery as the Steelers went 12-4, winning the AFC North division title before bowing out of the playoffs in the Wild Card round.
Since coming over to Pittsburgh in the early-season 2019 trade with the Miami Dolphins, Fitzpatrick has unlocked the potential he showed at the University of Alabama as a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, quickly developing into one of the top safeties in the game while helping the Steelers’ defense take the next step in its dominance.
That trade for Fitzpatrick could go down as arguably the best move Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have made together in their time leading the Steelers.
“Most complete safety in the game,” a high-ranking NFL official said in ESPN’s rankings. “Elite instincts, athleticism, processor, field vision, positional flexibility, production in deep part of the field, [and] can cover man-to-man. Can do it all.”
Fitzpatrick posted a league-best 45.5% completion percentage allowed when the nearest defender last season, along with a 60.2 passer rating. His 33.3% ball hawk rate — an NFL Next Gen Stats measurement for percentage of targets in which the nearest defender made a play on the football — ranked third leaguewide. Fitzpatrick turns into a running back with the ball too, producing 207 return yards off his nine career picks in Pittsburgh.
“It’s his instincts, and he’s finally comfortable — they are playing him in the right spot,” an NFC coach said. “He studies, he knows first and second reads, and his return ability is elite.”
There’s no denying just how comfortable Fitzpatrick is in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers decided to put him in the free safety role for good, allowing him to grow comfortable and confident in the role, which is something that didn’t happen in Miami with the Dolphins as they moved Fitzpatrick all over the defense, not allowing the first-round pick to get comfortable in any one role, instead causing him to struggle.
The fourth-year safety had his fifth-year option picked up by the Steelers and is in line for a substantial long-term extension here in the new future, keeping him in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.