Now that training camp is over with the Pittsburgh Steelers back in Pittsburgh and gearing up for what they hope will be a much more productive season, it’s time to take stock of where the team stands. Specifically, where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of training camp and the preseason and the regular season as it plays out. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning for each one. 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: The All-Pro safety already looks to be in midseason form after playing a starring role in the Steelers’ Week 1 upset victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, accounting for eight critical points all on his own with a pick-six and a blocked extra point.
It only looks even more absurd in hindsight that Minkah Fitzpatrick was somehow not even voted into the Pro Bowl last season, nevermind the fact that his two-year streak of being named an All-Pro was abruptly and errantly put to an end. The idea that he had a ‘down’ year is rather a joke, with mild early inconsistencies within the defense somehow overshadowing the fact that he was the best safety in the NFL in the second half of the season.
The fifth-year veteran was all over the field for the Steelers yesterday, starting early when he jumped a Joe Burrow pass and picked it off, running it back for a touchdown and putting the underdog visitors up 7-0 early, setting the tone and building a lead that they were going to need.
Starting off the game on such a high note, his blocked extra point attempt at the end of regulation also spared the Steelers a loss, as that one point would have made it 21-20 Bengals, and the Steelers went on to win in overtime.
In between those two pivotal moments were plenty of quieter but still important ones that resulted in him totaling 14 tackles, many of them key in preventing bigger plays. His open-field tackling was often exceptional, this coming after he registered 124 tackles last season. In case you were wondering, his 14 tackles are third-most in the league thus far.
It’s difficult to quantify Fitzpatrick’s value to this defense, but the Steelers tried to put a number on it this offseason, signing him to a four-year, $73 million contract extension that briefly made him the highest-paid safety in NFL history. He’s already earning that and then some.