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Steelers All 90: Minkah Fitzpatrick Thinks Defense ‘Ahead’ of the Curve

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Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick

Ever since the Pittsburgh Steelers traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick in the early part of the 2019 season, he has played as well as anybody at the position. This offseason alone, Fitzpatrick has consistently been named as one of the two best safeties in the league along with Los Angeles Chargers star, Derwin James.

RELATED: Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick Named Best Safety in NFL

Fitzpatrick is tied for the most defensive touchdowns since he entered the league with five. Fitzpatrick led the NFL in interceptions with six and helped the Steelers’ defense tie the league-high in team interceptions with 20 in 2022. After a successful season for the secondary, many of the faces in the cornerback and safety rooms left this offseason.

The Steelers brought in an influx of talent to the secondary to replace that production and Fitzpatrick is impressed with how well the group has meshed so far. The new additions range from veterans such as Patrick Peterson and Keanu Neal to rookies like Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice.

“A lot of the guys that we brought in have a lot of experience,” Fitzpatrick said. “A lot of the guys that we brought in are ball hawks so now it is just [about] finding that chemistry, learning how each other communicates, and how each other sees the game. I think we’re doing a really good job. I think we’re ahead of the game and we’re definitely ahead of where I thought we would be.”

Fitzpatrick sees the new version of the Steelers’ defense as one that is perfectly balanced. He claimed that the group has a great mixture of veterans that have high football IQs and younger guys that love to be “sponges” of information.

“I think we have a perfect balance of vets and younger guys,” Fitzpatrick said. “[W]hen you have that good combination, you have the vets that set the standard and you have the young guys that bring the energy and the juice to everyday… I think we are ahead of where we were last year, and that says a lot.”

Regardless of how the defense performs as a whole, Fitzpatrick is expected to remain one of the best secondary players in the NFL and will continue to be a huge factor for the Steelers’ defense in 2023. The Steelers’ defensive success in 2023 will be determined by Fitpatrick’s and T.J. Watt’s level of play and health as they are two of the best at their respective positions.

RELATED: Steelers Vote Minkah Fitzpatrick as Team’s 2022 MVP

39 • Minkah Fitzpatrick, Safety, Alabama
6-foot-1, 207 pounds, 26 years old, 6th Season

Acquired: The Steelers traded the team’s 2020 first-round pick, 2020 fifth-round pick, and 2021 sixth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for Fitzpatrick, a 2020 fourth-round pick, and a 2021 seventh-round pick on September 16, 2019.

Last seasonFollowing a down year in 2021, Fitzpatrick bounced back in a huge way for the Steelers last season. He started all 15 games that he appeared in and played 939 defensive snaps. In his 15 games, he tallied 96 total tackles and a career-high six interceptions. His six interceptions led the NFL in 2022.

Fitzpatrick single-handedly kept the Steelers in the game in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals as he recorded a pick-six and blocked a game-winning extra-point attempt at the end of regulation. The Steelers went on to win the game in overtime.

After the season, Fitzpatrick was named to the Pro Bowl and an AP All-Pro for the third time in his career.

Steelers FS Minkah Fitzpatrick

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

CareerThe Dolphins drafted Fitzpatrick with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft after he decided to forego his senior season at Alabama. Fitzpatrick competed for the starting safety job in training camp but ultimately started the season as a backup. Fitzpatrick recorded his first career start in Week 3 against the Oakland Raiders. His first interception came against the New England Patriots and Tom Brady in Week 4. Fitzpatrick ended his rookie season with 80 combined tackles and two interceptions on 944 defensive snaps.

Fitzpatrick started the first two games of the 2019 season with the Dolphins but requested a trade and noted that he felt like the team was playing him out of position. The Steelers traded for him before their Week 3 game against the San Francisco 49ers. Fitzpatrick immediately slotted in as the starting free safety and recorded his first interception as a Steeler in that game. In Week 8 against the Dolphins, Fitzpatrick hauled in an interception against his former team. He finished the 2019 season with 69 combined tackles, five interceptions (all on the Steelers), and one forced fumble.

After the season, Fitzpatrick was named to the Pro Bowl and an Associated Press First-Team All-Pro.

Fitzpatrick started all 16 games for the Steelers in 2020 as he played 1,021 defensive snaps and recorded 79 combined tackles, four interceptions, and one forced fumble. Fitzpatrick was named to his second straight Pro Bowl and Associated Press All-Pro First Team following the 2020 season.

In 2021, Fitzpatrick played a career-high 1,083 snaps as he started all 16 games for the Steelers. He finished the year with a career-high 124 total tackles, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. Pro Football Focus gave him the lowest grade (59.8) of his career following the 2021 season.

Throughout his first five seasons in the NFL, Fitzpatrick has tallied 443 total tackles, 47 passes defended, 19 interceptions, six tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles. His five defensive touchdowns since he entered the league are tied for the most in the league during that span.

Pittsburgh Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick Depth Chart

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick — ED THOMPSON / Steelers Now

Year Team GP GS Snaps Tackles Interceptions FFs PFF Rating
2018 MIA 16 11 944 80 2 0 61.9
2019 MIA 2 2 116 12 0 1
2019 PIT 14 14 930 57 5 1 79.8
2020 PIT 16 16 1,021 79 4 1 79.5
2021 PIT 16 16 1,083 124 2 1 59.8
2022 PIT 15 15 939 96 6 0 82.4

CollegeComing out of high school as the fourth-ranked cornerback according to ESPN, Fitzpatrick committed to the University of Alabama. Fitzpatrick played immediately as a true freshman as he appeared in 14 games in 2015 for the Crimson Tide. He helped lead Alabama to a National Championship victory against Clemson. Fitzpatrick recorded 45 total tackles, two interceptions, 13 passes defended, three tackles for loss, and two sacks as a true freshman. Both of his interceptions went the other way for touchdowns.

In 2016, Fitzpatrick played in 15 games for Nick Saban’s defense and finished the season with 66 combined tackles, six interceptions, 13 passes defended, five tackles for loss, and a sack. In a game against Arkansas, Fitzpatrick broke the school record for the longest interception returned for a touchdown (100 yards), and tied the school record for most interceptions in a single game (three) and most career interceptions returned for a touchdown (four). After the season, Fitzpatrick was named a Consensus All-American.

As a junior in 2017, Fitzpatrick won his second National Championship and was named a Consensus All-American for the second season in a row. In addition, Fitzpatrick won the Jim Thorpe Award and Chick Bednarik Award in 2017. He finished the season with 60 combined tackles, one interception, nine passes defended, eight tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Going down as one of the best defensive backs to ever play at Alabama, Fitzpatrick finished his collegiate career with 42 appearances for the Crimson Tide. He posted 171 combined tackles, nine interceptions, four pick-sixes, 35 passes defended, 16 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and two National Championships.

Year GP TKLs INTs PDs TFLs Sacks
2015 14 45 2 13 3 2.0
2016 15 66 6 13 5 1.0
2017 13 60 1 9 8 1.5

Salary cap and future: Fitzpatrick is the second-highest-paid safety in the league and is signed with the Steelers through the end of the 2026 season.

In 2023, Fitzpatrick will only cost $7.94 million against the Steelers’ cap space but will make over $20 million per season from 2024 through 2026. His 2023 cap hit includes a base salary of $1.08 million and $6.86 in bonuses.

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