Now that the regular season has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Though it did not come in the manner that he would like, Minkah Fitzpatrick had arguably one of his best games of the season on Sunday, particularly playing strong against the run, although he allowed another potential interception to slip through his grasp.
Minkah Fitzpatrick already has the 15th-most tackles in a single season in franchise history at 114, with two games left to play. He is the only defensive back who is anywhere near that figure, the list populated by repeated names like James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons, the two combining for eight of the top 10 seasons in total tackles.
But you don’t want your defensive backs racking up 100-plus tackles, of course, especially your free safety. It’s okay if it’s your strong safety every once in a while, or the safety who more often plays in the box, anyway, like Ryan Clark, who’s done it a couple of times; but even in those years, it was because the front seven was off.
Fitzpatrick has four 10-tackle games this year, including 26 combined over the past two weeks. It’s a role he has taken on by necessity, and I’m sure you can imagine how much worse the run defense would be if he wasn’t stepping up and closing out those final lanes separating the ball carrier from the end zone.
Of course, he’s still playing in the secondary and dropping into coverage. The second half of his season has been stronger and more consistent, especially in that regard, though as mentioned, he failed to secure what should have been his third interception of the season.
The fourth-year veteran did not make the Pro Bowl this year, but he has done a lot of things in 2021 that don’t typically get noticed coming from a free safety. I’m sure he has plenty of personal critiques for himself, but there’s a reason the defense has given up among the fewest explosive passing plays this year, believe it or not.