The Steelers have a young roster with several players 25 years and younger. But only one of them made a list of the top 25 players in that age range by CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin.
Minkah Fitzpatrick was ranked 19th in the NFL on Benjamin’s list, making him the highest ranked safety and seventh-highest ranked defensive player. He’s listed behind Fred Warner, Micah Parsons, Chase Young, Roquan Smith, Jaire Alexander and Nick Bosa.
Since entering the NFL in 2018, FItzpatrick’s 13 career interceptions are the eighth-most of any NFL player. He’s also the only NFL player currently 25 or younger who has earned two First Team All-Pro honors. Since 2018, only Darius Leonard and Quenton Nelson have multiple All-Pro honors while being 25 or younger (both are now 26.)
Fitzpatrick may have had his first non-all-pro season for the Steelers in 2021, but it’s clear that the Steelers’ injury issues forced him to fill different roles. The Steelers’ losses of Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, along with struggles at the linebacker position, led to the team ranking dead last in run defense for the first time since 1941.
That forced Fitzpatrick to become a bigger contributor against the run. He racked up 124 tackles, the most ever in a single season by a Steelers defensive back. But that also didn’t allow him to play his centerfielder X-factor role he played for the Steelers in 2019 and 2020 when he made First Team All-Pro.
Should the Steelers’ run defense issues in the front seven lessen in 2022, expect Fitzpatrick to return to a familiar role that will allow his instincts and ball skills to increase his interception numbers again.
If that happens, the national perception of Fitzpatrick’s role in the defense will not only make him All-Pro again, but also help the Steelers make the playoffs again.
Najee Harris, Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth were all by Benjamin in the “maybe next year” category as players who just missed the cut.