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Steelers Analysis

How DeShon Elliott Unlocks Minkah Fitzpatrick in Steelers Defense

New Pittsburgh Steelers safety DeShon Elliott is going to help Minkah Fitzpatrick more than anyone else on the Steelers.



Pittsburgh Steelers FS Minkah Fitzpatrick
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick against the Buffalo bills, Jan. 17, 2024 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The Pittsburgh Steelers shored up their safety position by bringing in DeShon Elliott on a two-year deal. While he might not be the final solution, he could be the suitable starter if they cannot find another upgrade this offseason. And that might be the most important part of the move. Because the way he meshes next to Minkah Fitzpatrick could have a huge impact on the Steelers star safety.

How so?

He played more at free safety than strong safety a year ago, logging over 500 snaps at free safety but over 200 snaps at strong safety. In addition, Elliott played 97 snaps in the slot. This should allow for some continuity to be built across the safety corps, as Elliott seems likely to be paired with Fitzpatrick on the back end of the defense and can allow Fitzpatrick to work at free safety as well as strong safety.

And the team can trust Elliott to man down in the slot or box as an excellent run-down safety. He was fifth in missed tackle percentage, while Fitzpatrick was second. In other words, the Steelers have an elite safety-tackling duo. And part of that will at least, in part, help strengthen a run defense that failed to hold up on the back end too often. Teams would run outside the tackles, attack the cornerbacks, or force the safeties to be the fill defender and wrap up, but outside of Fitzpatrick, they often did not find success doing that.

However, Elliott is a versatile player who has played all over the defense and seems likely to be the starter. At the same time, Kazee comes in as a rotational player in the secondary. So, how does that all affect Fitzpatrick? 2023 Fitzpatrick played more free safety than anywhere else, which makes sense, but he played just as many snaps combined in the slot and at strong safety. Fitzpatrick condensed the roles that Terrell Edmunds and Arthur Maulet held into one.

But doing so took away Fitzpatrick’s ability to roam near the line of scrimmage and all around the defensive formation. The robber role he is so deadly in took a backseat for blitzing packages and spots that forced him into obvious positions. Pittsburgh could not disguise their coverages like they usually would, either. But Elliott’s versatility will allow Pittsburgh to do just that. Fitzpatrick is at his best when quarterbacks are wondering where he is at all times, but they became too specialized with Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal, who were cylindered into specific roles. As a result, Fitzpatrick became boxed into his roles, too, but Elliott offered the flexibility to pull him out of that.

For those reasons, Elliott made so much sense for only $6 million over two years as a cheap, solid signing for the Steelers. He does not change the world, and he is not a superstar, but when it helps cater to the strengths of the superstars around him, that is when things start to come together. And for Pittsburgh, that is part of what they needed to get back to doing on defense in the secondary. Elliott should help unlock Fitzpatrick’s roving and ball-hawking capabilities in 2024.