Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth 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 season and into the offseason 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: Even
Reasoning: The four-year veteran had what for him could be considered an average season in 2021, which is a level of play that remains very credible, and then some.
The fact that the 2021 season was the worst yet for Minkah Fitzpatrick in three seasons is more a compliment than a criticism. He finished the year with 124 tackles (by far the most in team history by a defensive back) with one tackle for loss, two interceptions, seven passes defensed, and a forced fumble.
He did not make the All-Pro List. He did not even make the Pro Bowl, even as an alternate. I don’t know how concerned he is about that, however, as he likely has already secured what should be a handsome contract extension later this year.
Interestingly, by season’s end, Fitzpatrick’s overall snap distribution numbers by position played did not significantly depart from previous seasons. The Steelers had him moving around more in the early portions of the season, spending more time in the slot and even in the box, but ultimately, he still played about 85 percent of his snaps at free safety.
He did have to deal with a lot of change around him. Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton were gone as 40 percent of the starting secondary, replaced by a bit of a rotation around him, with Cameron Sutton entering the starting lineup but moving between the outside and slot, with Arthur Maulet, James Pierre, Tre Norwood, and Ahkello Witherspoon all playing significant roles at various times.
The amount of turnover around him could perhaps offer some explanation as to why Fitzpatrick had a less impactful season in 2021 than he did in his previous two years, particularly at the start of the season, but he did pick up the play-making later in the year. He had both of his interceptions and six of his seven passes defensed in the final six games of the regular season, and had another pass defensed in the playoffs. That hopefully bodes well for 2022 when there should be somewhat more clarity in the secondary.