Ahead of the 2022 season, one thing regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers and the talent defensively is that the black and gold have some truly dominant individual players on the roster on that side of the football.
There’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year award winner T.J. Watt, coming off of a season in which he tied the single-season sacks record with 22.5. There’s also star interior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward coming off of yet another First Team All-Pro accolade and another trip to the Pro Bowl.
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is also in that category, coming off of a season in which he led the Steelers with 124 tackles in a year in which the Steelers really struggled to stop the run, forcing Fitzpatrick to support.
Knowing the talent that is on that side of the football, it comes as no surprise that two of the three players were named Bleacher Report’s “most dominant” players at their respective positions. That said, one of the players was a surprise over the other.
Those two players would be Watt and Fitzpatrick at EDGE and safety, respectively, according to Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton.
Watt easily got the nod over Cleveland’s Myles Garrett for Moton’s rankings, in large part due to the Defensive Player of the Year award, along with an additional All-Pro accolade over the Browns’ star. It’s not just due to his pass rush prowess for Watt either, according to Moton.
It’s the way the former 2017 first-round pick at No. 30 overall impacts the game on a down-by-down basis, leading the Steelers’ defense to new heights.
“Watt doesn’t just impact the game with tackles and sacks. He’s recorded 32 pass breakups (at least seven in four out of five terms) and four interceptions, which shows great athleticism for a 6’4″, 252-pounder,” Moton writes regarding his selection of Watt for the most dominant EDGE defender. “Opposing teams may not want to believe this, but at only 27 years old, Watt may continue to improve in his prime. Even if he’s reached his peak, the elite-level defender could remain just a step above his peers at the position.
“Watt put his name in the record books next to a Hall of Famer in the sack category, giving him the edge (pun intended) over Myles Garrett, who’s recorded double-digit sacks in each of the last four years.”
Still only 27 years old and the owner of the largest contract in NFL history for a defensive player, Watt is just starting to reach his prime in the NFL, which is truly a scary thought overall. How much better he can get at this point remains a complete mystery, but based on his development in recent years, and his relentless work ethic, there’s no telling just what heights Watt can reach.
As for Fitzpatrick as the selection at safety for Moton, that was a bit of a surprise overall. Fitzpatrick is coming off of down year overall, in terms of turnovers, due to his role supporting against the run. His numbers dropped drastically in Pro Football Focus’s grading metrics as well, causing some in the national media to sour on the newly-crowned highest-paid safety in the NFL.
Moton didn’t waver though, choosing Fitzpatrick over Denver’s Justin Simmons at safety.
“Since Fitzpatrick’s arrival in Pittsburgh via trade in September of 2019, he’s strengthened the team’s back-end coverage. In his first year with the Steelers, he recorded five interceptions and nine pass breakups,” Moton writes regarding his selection of Fitzpatrick at safety. “In 2020 and 2021, the Steelers have ranked within the top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns allowed. During that period, Fitzpatrick registered six interceptions, 18 pass breakups and allowed passer ratings below 82 for both terms. Last year, he sharpened his physical technique, logging his lowest missed-tackle rate for a single season (9.5 percent) while leading the team in tackles with 124.
“With two All-Pro seasons in the last three years as a key cog in Pittsburgh’s defense, Fitzpatrick has shown why he’s the most dominant player at the position.”
With the way Moton lays it out, it’s a bit hard to argue against the case for Fitzpatrick as the NFL’s most dominant safety. When he’s able to play in his centerfield role, he changes the way the Steelers play defense for the best. That was quite evident in his immediate impact in the black and gold after coming over from the Miami Dolphins in a stunning 2019 trade.
It’s a bit of a curious selection overall, which shows that the national media remains split at key positions overall, especially safety, when it comes to the best players in the NFL.
Good news is though, at least according to Bleacher Report, the Steelers have two of the most dominant players in the sport at their respective positions, and the second most-dominant player on the defensive line in Heyward, who was an honorable mention for Moton behind Aaron Donald.