Minkah Fitzpatrick Ranked As NFL’s Fifth-Best Safety Through Three Weeks By NextGenStats

Months after signing a contract extension to be the then-highest paid safety in the NFL, and through three weeks of the 2022 season, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has been worth every penny.

Right away, on the second defensive play of the season, Fitzpatrick jumped in front of a Joe Burrow pass for a pick-six on the road in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals. He also later blocked the potential game-winning extra point and finished the overtime win with a game-high 14 tackles, earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

One week later, Fitzpatrick picked off New England’s Mac Jones, but has gone a bit quiet since then. However, he remains one of the best safeties in the NFL, period, according to’s NextGenStats, which ranked Fitzpatrick No. 5 overall at the safety position in its latest position rankings.

Though No. 5 overall might be a bit of a surprise considering the start to the season Fitzpatrick has had, NexGenStats made sure to point out he’s the league’s top-rated free safety, which is an important distinction at the position overall. According to NexGenStats, Fitzpatrick has an overall score of 91 on the year, which includes a 100 in play-time percentage; 95 in tackling; 87 in coverage; and a 54 in pass rush.

NextGenStats’ analytics team devised a formula that yields a NextGenStats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to his peers. The formula uses each player’s percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which players at that position performed best.

“The Steelers reset the position’s market this offseason, making Fitzpatrick the highest-paid safety in the league — well, for a couple months, until the Chargers broke the bank for Derwin James. Safe to say neither team has any regrets about these investments,” NextGenStats’ analytics team writes regarding Fitzpatrick’s ranking at No. 5 overall. “Fitzpatrick is the truest free safety on this list so far, lining up deep on 85 percent of his snaps. Despite aligning at an average depth of 12.4 yards, Fitzpatrick has made 10 defensive stops this season (including a league-high seven when aligned as a deep safety). But the two-time All-Pro’s most impressive skill is his ability to process information in split seconds on the back end of the defense.

“That elite awareness in coverage has translated to Fitzpatrick breaking up a pass or intercepting the ball on 21.8 percent of targets since entering the league in 2018, the third-highest ballhawk rate (percentage of targets as nearest defender resulting in a pass defensed or INT) in the NFL during that span (min. 150 targets),” NextGenStats’ analytics team added. “Fitzpatrick has taken an interception to the house in four of the five years of his career, including the first pass faced by the Steelers this season.”

Some of those numbers are absolutely eye-popping in regards to Fitzpatrick, especially the 21.8 percent of breaking up a pass or intercepting the ball since entering the league in 2018, which is the third-highest ballhawk rate in the league on a minimum of 150 targets.

Add in his ability to make run stops coming downhill from his free safety position at a high clip, he’s as dominant a safety as there is in the NFL, and is undoubtedly worth every penny. He helped change the Steelers’ defense right away when he came over from the Miami Dolphins via trade, and is truly blossoming into a team leader in his fourth year with the Steelers.

His overall score from NextGenStats feels a little low, which puts him behind names like Los Angeles’ Derwin James, Dallas’ Donovan Wilson, San Francisco’s Talanoa Hufanga, and Houston’s Jalen Pitre in the ranking. That said, as the best pure free safety in the NFL, he’s very deserving of a top five spot overall.

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