It’s hard to believe that after four seasons in the NFL (the last three with the Pittsburgh Steelers), star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is still just 25 years old.
At such a relatively young age for a star, Fitzpatrick is in line for a massive payday, one that could see him reset the market at the safety position in the NFL. Coming off of a season in which he recorded 124 tackles and two interceptions on a depleted Steelers’ defense, Fitzpatrick should be able to get whatever he wants on the open market due to his ability to clean up ad “erase” mistakes on the back half, while also providing some serious splash throughout his career.
That ability to create splash and consistently be near the top of the position in the league — regardless of what Pro Football Focus erroneously has to say — has Fitzpatrick as an easy shoo-in for CBS Sports’ Top 25 Players Under 25 rankings, which dropped Thursday. Fitzpatrick, who will turn 26 in mid-November, was ranked No. 19 overall on the list by CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin, one slot ahead of Cincinnati Bengals’ safety Jessie Bates, who is also angling for a large extension.
Fitzpatrick also edged out Carolina safety Jeremy Chinn on the list, who ranked No. 25 overall.
“If [Jessie] Bates deserves to reset the safety market, then so does he [Fitzpatric],” Benjamin writes. “The former Dolphins first-rounder set such a high standard as a ballhawk immediately after coming over from Miami that his 2021 numbers (124 tackles, seven pass deflections, two INTs) registered as just OK. He is the perfect modern safety in the way he leverages his athleticism in coverage.”
There’s no denying that, at least from a turnover creation perspective last season, Fitzpatrick was a bit underwhelming, especially after being an absolute ballhawk for the Steelers in his first two seasons after coming over from the Miami Dolphins in the early-season trade in 2019.
That said, he was still a very good safety in 2021, especially as the last line of defense overall, consistently making tackles in the open field to help negate big plays before they happened. That alone should help him get a sizable deal. He truly is an eraser on the back half due to his ability to cover up mistakes thanks to his overall range and instincts for the position.
With some additions in the secondary like cornerback Levi Wallace and safety Damontae Kazee, Fitzpatrick should be able to truly move around again and hunt turnovers, assuming health, under first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
Though Fitzpatrick was the only Steeler to crack the top 25, Benjamin highlighted running back Najee Harris and wide receiver Chase Claypool in his “maybe next year” category, as both are 24 years old and would be eligible for the rankings next summer as well.